Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza's [REC] took Spanish cinemas by storm back in 2007. Shot vérité style, REC's relentless scares and manic pace had fans the world over screaming its praises; so much so that Sony secured the rights to the film in order to recreate the phenomenon for U.S. audiences with its 2008 remake, Quarantine. Quarantine proved to be a very competent shocker in its own right, but seeing as how Sony held back the release of the original film stateside so that it could release its own version, we had nothing to compare it to. That is, until now.
Eager young reporter, Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), and her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso), are spending the night with the Barcelona fire department, filming the sort of softball human interest story/fluff piece young reporters always seem to find themselves saddled with in the movies. She covers the men playing basketball, eating in their kitchen, and other such "day in the life of" activities, all the while praying for some sort of emergency so that she can cover some real action.
Angela gets her wish when she and Pablo accompany firemen Manu (Ferran Terraza) and Alex (David Vert) on a seemingly routine rescue call to a local apartment building. When they arrive, they discover an elderly woman covered in blood, and, apparently, in the throes of some form of dementia. The rescuers attempt to help her, but the confused woman attacks them, severely wounding a police officer, and sending the apartment building's inhabitants into a panic. Alex stays with the old woman, while Manu and Officer Joven (Jorge Serrano) carry Joven's dying partner downstairs for medical attention. When they get back to the lobby, however, they discover that the building has been placed under quarantine. Those inside are given no explanation other than that they've been exposed to an unknown contagion, and no one will be allowed in or out until the authorities have the situation under control. Seconds later, a bitten and battered Alex plummets into the lobby from the third floor, another victim of the demented old woman. Trapped inside a tenement with a virus that transforms men into feral killing machines, Angela has just been handed the big story she's been waiting her whole career for. Now all she has to do is live to tell it.
I'll say it as plain as Jane; [REC] scared the shit out of me. Having already seen Quarantine, I expected I'd already experienced pretty much all [REC] had to offer, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, they both share an abundance of key shocks and shots, but, without venturing too far into spoiler territory, [REC] and Quarantine are decidedly different animals. While Quarantine is a sleeker, slicker vehicle, with a bit more Hollywood spit and polish (albeit still extremely low-budget by studio standards), [REC] is more primal; more rough around the edges. It's a grainier, grimier, and more jarring visual experience, and, seeing as how I didn't recognize a single member of the cast (as opposed to Quarantine's pair of familiar genre faces, Jennifer Carpenter and Jay Hernandez), the "found footage" illusion played better for me this time out.
Sony brings [REC] to DVD with a rather blah assortment of extras. We’re given a short making-of documentary that screams EPK, and…well…that's it. When compared to the bounty of extras bestowed upon Quarantine, it’s obvious that a whole heckuva lot of thought or effort didn't go into putting this DVD together. Still, it's nice to finally have a proper region one edition for my shelf.
In terms of overall quality, [REC] and Quarantine are something of a wash in my opinion. Both films have their strengths and weaknesses (for example, I prefer Jennifer Carpenter's Angela Vidal to the somewhat grating presence of Manuela Velasco, but like [REC]'s gothic "twist" ending better than Quarantine's more perfunctory dénouement), but each are stunningly efficient exercises in vérité style terror. Still, if I had to give one the nod over the other, I'd have to say that [REC] would get my endorsement. After all, it is the original. Then again, I quite like some of the changes made in Quarantine. Still, [REC]'s ending is a... You know what? Just buy them both, and make up your own mind, damnit!