Dead Reconing

* Rec (Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, 2007)

I remember sitting through The Blair Witch Project in a state of sheer terror.

I was going to a preview or early screening with the Prefab Four – bought the comic book, which I must have somewhere – and Paul and Elizabeth failed to show up, and were uncontactable from a phone box on their mobiles.

Yes, it was that long ago.

The film really didn’t work for me, and I found the characters pretty annoying, and couldn’t wait for the big bad to get them.

Blair Witch wasn’t the first found footage and wasn’t the last, which is where * Rec comes in. There are various sequels, which move into more cannibalistic territory I gather, and the inevitable American remake.

The film is situated as a fly on the wall documentary of the night shift — marginally dumb blonde Angela Vidal is spending a nightshift with a fire crew and her cameraman Pablo in Barcelona. We are introduced to an all-male crew, although we don’t get the sexist banter that you might expect, and see them playing basketball as they wait for an emergency crew. Angela shoots various various set up shots and is able to sink a ball in the basket.

When the call comes, it appears more police or ambulance issue than fire crew — screams from a flat in an apartment building. The fire crew break in, to see an old woman in a bloodied nightdress — and she attacks one of them before being shot dead. Apparently.

Just as all hell is breaking loose, the Biological, Chemical and Nuclear Containment crew arrive, sealing off the building. Angela, Pablo, the fire crew and the occupants of the building are trapped in the place with the clearly not dead old woman and her obviously infected and hungry victim, and unless they can defend themselves or find an escape route, they are next.

The footage is shaky and jerky, so you are not quite sure what you are going to see next, and I wonder how Pablo got his job at times. Bodies fall into shot, the monster appears suddenly, and even the innocence of a child is no guarantee of safety. A friend in one shot is dead meat or a killer in the next. As well as the fight of survival, there is the detective puzzle of what is going on — with the film wisely giving us some insight as to whodunnit, albeit with large question marks. I think we are played fair with. (A caveat: in the Terrible Place they find a tape recorder, conveniently cued up at the right place. Up to that point I’d bought the shrine of newspaper clippings, but I felt it hit peak cliché.)

Surprisingly, it is scary and I don’t scare easily at horror. I don’t think it’s a matter of identifying with the victims — there’s a high level of distrust and xenophobia between the multicultural inhabitants of the apartments, and perhaps there’s a lack of painting these backgrounds in. The lack of reverse shots in theory prevents identification with Pablo (the name of the cinematographer, Pablo Rosso, whose dialogue is voiced by someone else, Javier Coromina). I think it is because we are generally trapped in the viewpoint.

There are some slips – one of the interviews intercuts a bit much, the equipment is reliable up to convenient plot points – but Neill Blomkamp would do well to pay attention.

And of course there is a haunting — the Barcelona setting and the mixed inhabitants recall various Pedro Almodovar films. In another flat, a jilted woman has drunk gazpacho laced with sleeping pills and having sexual dreams and a young man is masturbating in front of a mirror having watched a sexy movie.

Sometimes I scare myself.

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