Friday, 28 May 2010

Turn it on again: "[REC]2"

Emerging in UK cinemas in early 2008, the Spanish horror pic [REC] had TV cameras following a fire crew into a Barcelona apartment block where the residents were busy developing rabid tendencies; a genre-savvy effort that shuttled its players up and down between levels, like avatars in a computer game, it was enough, at least, to catch the eye of Sony Pictures' Screen Gems division, who remade it (more or less shot-for-shot) as Quarantine within the year. If the original drew on The Blair Witch Project and Doom for its inspiration, then this sequel, again directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, models itself on Aliens by way of CSI, picking up where the first film left off by sending a crack SWAT team into the same building to investigate an incident scene that proves anything but secure.

Though [REC]2 suffers from the law of diminishing returns, rather cursory characterisation (none of the SWAT team has the breakout potential of Aliens' Private Hudson) and some shameless demographic-courting (with the introduction of a group of teenagers who just so happen to have found their way into a building we'd previously been told was completely sealed), tinkering with the concept fixes a glitch that hampered the effectiveness of the original. In [REC], we watched the mounting horror through the detached, third-person perspective of a documentary crew - and thus saw other people getting freaked out, from a vaguely reassuring distance. The action in [REC]2, however, is relayed via the SWAT team's helmet-cams, putting us closer to the carnage, and (in several instances) right there in the middle of it.

Essentially, the franchise has undergone an upgrade, and [REC]2's formal games with cameras (the continual switching on and off, the image dropout, the frames-within-frames) are more sophisticated and dynamic than those effectuated in Blair Witch; it's a conceit that could only be pulled off in the age of digital technology and projection. Even when our heroes are clambering through heading ducts or stumbling around in night vision, the images sent back to us are pin-sharp - except when a lens is smashed, obliging the narrative to double back on itself in a similar fashion to last year's standout Spanish offering Timecrimes. "Record everything," somebody shouts in the maelstrom, "That's fundamental!" No surprise the last character standing is the one with the closest relationship to the recording device, and arguably the emptiest vessel of all.

In [REC]2, the camera becomes a tool for excavating the history of a building, its inhabitants, and the horror genre itself: one of our guides this time out is a doughty priest, landed with the bearing and gravitas of Max von Sydow in The Exorcist, whose mission to contain the mess left behind by his superiors (and keep at least one of the zombified inhabitants alive, in order to extract their blood for an antidote) sets him in direct conflict with the soldiers (whose orders are to shoot on sight) and the surviving civilians (whose aim is to get out unbitten). The theme of mismanagement by the Catholic church is just one way the film attempts to open itself out beyond the boundaries of genre; you sense Bunuel - not to mention any passing etymologist - would appreciate the name given to the little girl revealed here as the source of the infection: Tristana.

[REC]2 opens nationwide today.

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