At The Picture Show
'[REC]' runs out of ways to explore the first-person format
Director: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Screenplay: Jaume Balagueró, Luis Berdejo and Paco Plaza
Starring: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Pablo Rosso, Jorge Serrano, David
Vert and Carlos Vicente
Rated R / 1 hour, 20 minutes
Released on DVD July 14, 2009
(out of four)
For all the merits of the first-person POV technique, I'm just not so sure if it has
any legs. When it was first introduced to the masses a decade ago with The Blair
Witch Project, it seemed like an anomaly - particularly because, despite all the
hype, audiences largely disliked the movie.
But the style has reappeared with a new vitality over the last couple of years,
ushered in as both a byproduct of the handheld, doc-style filmmaking trend (Lost,
the Bourne movies, just about every action movie you've seen the last few years,
etc.) and a reflection of (and commentary on) the voyeurism of 21st Century
But when the style is applied to a traditional plot
scenario, it runs the risk of losing its novelty - as is the case with Jaume Balaguero
and Paco Plaza's [REC]. To be fair to the movie, it was first released in Spain in
2007 (before finally hitting the U.S. on DVD this summer), so anyone accusing it
of aping the Cloverfield formula is misinformed.
But just because it got the jump on the first-person gimmick doesn't mean it did it
exceptionally well. On the contrary, the style ultimately comes across, oddly
enough, as rather irrelevant. It may feel superficially different at the start, but the
problem is the filmmakers are using cinematic language in the exact same way as
any traditional horror movie would. The proceedings are still made up of things
lurching out from around the corner, or suddenly jolting toward the screen, or
characters turning around to find themselves face-to-face with one horror or
another. It's all the same.
The cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso) and the on-air talent, Angela (Manuela
Velasco), began their night shooting a routine shift at the local fire department,
only to get brought along on a job at the worst possible time - when people are
being mysteriously and savagely killed in an apartment building in what seems to
be some sort of government and/or police conspiracy.
Despite several characters' reservations, Angela and
Pablo keep on shooting everything that happens. The fact that we're getting a
supposedly "heightened" sense of perspective from the POV format is supposed to
be the novelty of [REC], but in actuality it enhances very little - and does less to
differentiate itself from the norm than it thinks it does.
The reveals are carefully set up and carefully exposed, utilizing none of the chaos
that would seem to be the appeal of a "raw" first-person viewpoint. Each shot
accomplishes virtually the exact same thing as they would in the same scene with
traditional camerawork. What's the point, then? What's the difference?
That the TV cameraman serves as our proxy is a moot point - something the
filmmakers never realize - because that type of perspective is something that films
intrinsically have anyway. The camera always stands in for the viewer. That gets
to the central fallacy of the film's conceit - its first-person style is, essentially,
To be fair, the very limitations of the technique open up interesting aesthetic
possibilities, in that we can't get the same traditional wide shots and establishing
shots. And so the way we're fed the story has been altered. The problem with
[REC] is that, once it gets into its most crucial scenes, it falls back on absolutely
ordinary stylistic choices.
Not to mention that the secrets of the story, once they
gradually get uncovered, are somewhat underwhelming.
You can do intriguing things with this kind of technique - it's just that it's not as
easy as it seems to actually make it unique. Cloverfield, despite all its shrill
melodrama, utilized its style far more effectively. It was offbeat, it was frantic, its
reveal moments - which appeared with an unnerving lack of rhythm - made an
impact. Even George Romero's Diary of the Dead, while not entirely successful,
still managed to infuse the format with irony and wit.
And while The Blair Witch Project was ahead of its time 10 years ago, [REC]
already seems to be behind it.
Read more by Chris Bellamy