Chances are you haven't seen [REC] for a number of reasons. 1) It's a Spanish film, and multiplexes don't reserve a lot of space for foreign films. 2) It's currently being remade (surprise surprise) as an American feature this Fall called QUARANTINE, meaning the studios are holding it off for domestic release so as not to spoil the wonder. 3) It's another POV film a la BLAIR WITCH that seems to be having a revival this year with CLOVERFIELD (reviewed here) and George Romero's DIARY OF THE DEAD (reviewed next).
If you are at all interested in this type of film, don't wait for the American remake. There are plenty of ways for the enterprising person to find this movie on the Web. See [REC]. It's a damn fine scary piece of entertainment where the chosen method of presentation doesn't distract but rather serves to propel the story along.
Ángela (played by cute-as-a-button Manuela Valasco) is a young late night news journalist of the early morning variety (does that even make sense) on a puff piece, following a group of firemen during a typical night shift. We see her gathering interviews and sequences, wishing something would happen so they can go out and get something more exciting than dinner in the communal dining hall and quick pickup games on the basketball court. She gets her wish when they receive a call to assist a woman trapped in her apartment. The other tenants are huddled in the lobby, gossiping and generally acting like you'd expect a group of neighbors to act. The firemen knock, get no answer and break down the door. An elderly woman sway on unsteady feet at the end of a dark hallway. They (and we, via the camera) move in to assist.
And that's when she bites into the neck of the nearest person. Ouch! Panic takes over, and everyone runs for the exit, only to find it being sealed and guarded by the military. Double ouch!
From here on in you know exactly where this film is going, but the cliches and obvious nods to 28 DAYS/WEEKS LATER and Romero's DEAD films work because [REC] is filmed with an enthusiasm and sense of fun that refuses to degenerate into cheap laughs or awkward moments, but instead keeps the movie desperate and on pace. Co-directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, there's a sharp focus on motivation for keeping the camera on (far more successful than we'll see in DIARY OF THE DEAD) and for action instead of explanation. There are plenty of jump moments to keep you from getting complacent, and although the final explanation for what's happening is vague (is it a government virus / demonic possession / zombies?), you're given enough pieces to work out your own satisfactory conclusion. The acting is okay, and we're talking no- as compared to low-budget, but that's part of the charm. [REC] doesn't attempt to offer homilies or observations on society, it serves to scare us, and keep us on the edge of our seat for 75 minutes.
It succeeds, and I can't wait to see how the American version mangles a yet another good idea that worked perfectly fine the first time.