“[REC]” is a 2007 found footage horror film from Spain. It is co-directed by Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, with Balagueró and Plaza co-writing the screenplay with Luiso Berdejo. The film follows a TV news reporter conducting a ride-along with the local fire department when a routine call goes horribly wrong.
The film opens with TV news reporter Angela and her cameraman Pablo following the goings on at a fire station for a nightly news magazine. All is quiet until a call about an elderly woman trapped inside her apartment. The firemen do not believe the call is urgent. In fact, they don’t even turn on the lights or siren on the truck because they think that they’re headed out to assist in a non-emergency. Once they arrive at their destination, the first responders discover that the old woman is behaving strangely and exhibiting alarming symptoms. When the woman bites one of the first responders, all hell breaks loose and Angela and her cameraman realize they are in for much more than they’d initially bargained for. It will take courage, intelligence, and adaptability for them to stand a chance of surviving the night.
The [REC] franchise began in 2007 with [REC] and has since spawned three sequels. The second film, [REC] 2 (2009), is found footage, the third installment in the series, [REC] 3: Genesis (2012), marked the move to a narrative film format. The films also spawned a US franchise with Quarantine (2008) and its 2011 sequel. Quarantine is essentially a United States remake of [REC] in every respect.
[REC] is noteworthy for seeing release in its native Spain nearly two-years before Paranormal Activity (2007) enjoyed a US theatrical release in 2009. Paranormal Activity is often credited with kicking off the modern found footage filmmaking boom. But [REC] certainly deserves some recognition for its influence on the development of the found footage genre as we know it today.
Every so often a found footage film is created that further evolves the genre—[REC] is one such example. The film’s most-noteworthy contribution to the genre is the iconic “drag and pull” scene during the film’s climax (as depicted in the featured image at the top of this review). This particular scene is one of the most copied cinematic devices in all of found footage, only second to the often-parodied “runny nose” shot featured in The Blair Witch Project (1999).
Found Footage Cinematography
The footage in [REC] has an excuse for looking as good as it does. The first act of the film is shot as news footage for what looks like a puff piece and, not surprisingly, it looks really good. Positioning the footage from film captured as a segment for a news magazine is a perfect setup because it gives the footage a sound reason for its existence and also speaks to why the cameras continue to roll long after an amateur with a palmcorder would have logically dropped the camera and attempted to flee the scene.
Most of the action sequences are choppy, but they should be. If they weren’t it would come across as staged and wholly inorganic. The footage becomes more and more frantic as the action becomes more intense.
Angela calls for cuts and repeat takes on several occasions, which serves to reinforce the authenticity of the footage for the benefit of the viewer. Cinematographer Pablo Rosso did a fantastic job making the footage look professional but also realistic. When everything goes off the rails, the camera is spinning around and moving up and down, not sitting in one place, looking as if the footage we are watching was captured from a tripod.
Adding to the perceived realism of REC are scenes where the cameraman nonchalantly carries the video camera at his side or on the floor while still recording in an effort to capture footage that he’s not supposed to. The use of this cinematic technique also adds tension to the storyline. Many of these haphazardly filmed scenes are appropriately blurry and framed improperly. This setup ingeniously masks the practical gore effects and places the impetus on viewers to squint to see what is actually taking place.
As we mentioned earlier, the footage is being recorded for a segment on a news magazine. Going in with that knowledge makes it easy for the viewer to suspend his or her disbelief and go along for the ride, rather than constantly wondering why the main characters didn’t simply stop filming and focus on their survival a long time ago.
The authorities ask Angela and her cameraman to cut the recording several times. And Angela even tells them that the camera is off when it is not. This makes perfect sense on both ends. The authorities would have every reason to try to contain the situation and keep things under control. And a determined journalist would naturally make every effort to capture a developing story by any means necessary–even if that means having to be a little deceptive or forceful.
There are a few of the standard ‘film everything’ moments throughout the film’s runtime. But for a journalist, chasing a story, that’s not really an unreasonable request and I don’t actually consider it cliché in this particular case. So, it’s much easier to accept and understand her relentless desire to film everything than it might be in a feature without said justification.
Another filming reason that proliferates most of [REC] is the fact that all of the primary characters are literally trapped in the apartment building, providing an indisputable reason as to why everyone does not immediately flee the scene of the horrific events unfolding before them. Further bolstering the filming reason are scenes where the video camera spotlight and night vision are used as light sources in otherwise pitch black rooms of the apartment building. [REC] is one of the early adopters of this now often-used found footage trope.
Found footage purity is a term we use to describe how realistically a found footage film comes across as being just that: found footage. Does the film look and sound as if it is organically occurring footage cobbled together to reconstruct a narrative? In the case of [REC], the directors get bonus points. The first ten minutes of [REC] looks and feels like actual raw footage that will be edited together for a human-interest piece on a nighttime news magazine.
Detracting somewhat from the authenticity of [REC] is the inclusion of an intermittent musical score included during the climactic scenes of the film. As is the case with many found footage films, this non-diegetic score was added to increase the tension of the film, employing an unnerving “thumping.” However, to the credit of Balagueró and Plaza, the score is very subtle and artfully blended with the environmental sounds. Many viewers may not even perceive the score unless they are listening for it.
The audio cues and onscreen effects look and feel natural as if they were captured during the acquisition of the footage. The practical effects are particularly convincing, as opposed to the increasingly common CGI that is favored in so many contemporary filmmaking efforts.
The footage is presented in a series of lengthy takes, which keeps the film from feeling overly produced. Most of the cuts that do exist are easily explained—for example, the camera is turned off or the tape needs to be rewound to clarify previous events.
Despite the particularly convincing cinematography, one area where the film falters is a scene where one of the characters rewinds and plays back the footage. In this particular scene, the rewinding and playback sequence is incredulously recorded to the video as part of the film. Similar “rewatch” scenes in newer found footage films typically show a character’s intent to rewatch the footage, they stop recording, and the footage resumes with the characters’ post-watch facial expressions to whatever horrific events they just bore witness to.
Despite the few challenges the film faces, ten years later [REC] still presents as terrifyingly real found footage that most films cannot hold a candle to.
Manuela Velasco plays Angela, our plucky heroine. Velasco is both likable in her portrayal of Angela as well as believable as a journalist. She is the only one on camera in several sequences, so it is especially important that she be able to carry a scene. Fortunately, Velasco pulls it off with ease and poise. She plays Angela as feisty and determined, even getting into more than one shouting match about her right to tape the ensuing mayhem. She goes so far as to tell one of the first responders to keep his hands off her camera and focus on the real problem at hand.
Angela is a strong, capable heroine who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or what she believes in. She’s almost impossible not to like. She seamlessly and deftly adapts from the filming of what starts out as something of a fluff piece to something much more important.
Angela’s cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) is stoic and maintains a sense of calm amidst the calamity. This is the trademark of a good cameraman, even a fictitious one. A camera operator needs to blend into the scenery as much as possible and simply capture that which transpires around him or her.
As for the firefighters, they come across as both natural and believable. Some of them seem to feel a little awkward about being on camera, at first–which makes perfect sense. Many people are naturally camera shy. So, depicting some of the firemen as such is logical and lends authenticity to the film.
In many ways, [REC] is surprisingly believable. It’s easy for an epidemic film to feel implausible. But that is not the case here. The infected behave similarly to the way rabid humans might conduct themselves, which is pretty terrifying. The carriers of the disease aren’t so much undead as they are afflicted with a viral condition that dramatically alters their behavior.
The storyline is simplistic and never feels overly complex. Much of the film is set at a single location, which does wonders for offering viewers a sense of claustrophobia—particularly after learning that the residents, the TV crew, and first responders have been quarantined inside the apartment building. Viewers are likely to feel as if they are trapped in the confined space with Angela, her cameraman, and the rest of the cast.
[REC] manages to tell an effective and unnerving story with brilliantly executed practical effects and a compelling plotline. Once the action begins (which is very early on), viewers are likely to have their eyes glued to the screen. The film progresses at breakneck speed and never outstays its welcome—clocking in at just an hour and eighteen-minutes.
The film was originally released as a Spanish language film with English subtitles. An English dubbed version of [REC] was subsequently released for English-speaking viewers. In order to enjoy the full performances of the exceptional cast, we strongly encourage found footage fans to watch the Spanish language version with English subtitles.
There have certainly been other found footage outbreak films but none nearly so effective as [REC]. It stands as one of the most well-executed of its kind.