Director Jaume Balagueró was at the forefront of a modest revival in Spanish horror at the beginning of the decade, since when a steady trickle of atmospheric supernatural thrillers with Iberian roots have slowly built on the cult success of films such as "The Nameless" and "Darkness", most of them produced by Brian Yuzna's Filmax International. 2007's "[REC]" broke out of the cult ghetto though, and heralded the start of a much starker more brutal approach to the horror genre than had previously been evident in Balagueró's work. Capitalising both on a revival of interest in the zombie genre which first began after Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later", and on a recent interest in the mock documentary format following the release of "Cloverfield", "[REC]" became known as one of the most relentless and downright bloody terrifying assaults on the audiences senses in recent years, bringing together the cold, clammy nastiness of the "Saw" franchise with a stripped down determination to make the audience jump out of its collective seat at least once every five minutes.
Well, folks ... you 'aint seen nothin' yet!
Now Balagueró has joined up once again with fellow Spanish horror filmmaker Paco Plaza for a co-directed follow-up which picks up literally seconds after the end of the first film, and, frankly, if you suffer from even the mildest kind of heart condition, for goodness sake stay away from this film -- because, amazingly, "[REC] 2" is even more brutal and terrifying than its predecessor!
From its opening seconds the film builds up an overbearing sense of anticipation and raw dread, and then proceeds to take you by the scruff of the neck and toy with you relentlessly, like a helpless mouse that's being shaken in the jaws of a particularly malicious feral cat, for the rest of its tense eighty minutes. On the surface, this is more of the same recipe that was served up before: same shaky video-cam footage, same gloomy apartment building setting, same very aggressive zombie-like creatures lurking in every darkened recess. Crucially, the two directors and their co-writer, Manu Díez, have expanded and illuminated the basic premise rather sketchily marked out in the previous film, emphasising the supernatural origins of the infection and thus turning the franchise (there are at least two more films planned in the series) into a downright creepy, as well as nerve jangling, video diary catalogue of mass demonic possession. This now begins to feel more like a Spanish reboot of Lamberto Bava's infamously hoakey Italian gore-fest "Demons" -- only without the bad eighties fashions, crap dubbed acting and heavy metal soundtrack, and with the dial marked 'pant-wetting raw terror' turned up to eleven!
The apartment building in downtown Barcalona in which a virulent virus has apparently been released, has been sealed off and quarantined. News crews and state authorities surround the area, but there is no contact with anyone inside the building. A heavily armed SWAT team, accompanied by a medical official from the Ministry of Health called Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor), are sent in, and the whole process is to be video recorded via miniature camcorders affixed to each man's helmet. But once inside, the team soon find that they are way out of their depth: it is not long before they are attacked by a screaming zombie-like inhabitant of the building who manages to bite and infect one of the team -- who himself then promptly becomes equally deranged and violent and uncontrollable. When Dr. Owen seems able to becalm the creature simply by muttering Biblical quotations and wielding a rosary and crucifix, the soldiers, beginning to suspect that there is more going on than meets the eye, demand some answers, and Dr. Owen is eventually forced to reveal that he is, in actual fact, a priest and not a genuine health official at all!
He reluctantly fills the terrified men in on the true situation and on their true mission: the infection has been spread by the blood of a possessed child called Tristana Medeiros. Secret experiments were being conducted on her inside the building (and it seems, other children as well!) just before the outbreak, by a scientist affiliated to the Catholic Church called Father Albelda in the hope of finding an inoculation against demonic possession. To have any hope of battling the spread of demonism, the team must track down the Medeiros blood sample which is hidden in Albelda's makeshift lab in the upper penthouse. Only then will the team be allowed to leave, for Father Owen is the only one authorised to give the command to exit the quarantined building via voice-recognising software. Meanwhile, on top of the building, oblivious to the drama that's going on inside, three teenagers are larking about with an inflatable doll, trying to film its launch from the roof attached to a firework. They eventually find their way into the building via the sewage system and find themselves plunged into a demon haunted nightmare.
"[REC] 2" is a finely tuned vehicle of terror, having largely learned the lesson from some of the minor structural faults of the previous film and found a way to circumvent them pretty effectively. The faux documentary nature of the first instalment meant that for all the realistic, fake documentary atmospherics it gained, the narrative structure was out of necessity fairly limited by what could reasonably be expected to take place in front of the shaky handheld camcorder of the main protagonist. Here, it's noticeable that while we still have essentially the same 'as-it-happens' vérité-style video aesthetic as was evident in "[REC]" -- a style which engenders the feeling of experiencing events in real time, as they happen, just as the protagonists would be experiencing them -- this sequel is actually much freer to switch between perspectives thanks to the convenience of each SWAT team member having been kited out with his own miniature helmet mounted camcorder. Characters can now be separated and we can still switch between their point of views (and even monitor several simultaneously -- further adding something of a grungy video game style to the movie which, thankfully, the directors don't go too overboard with).
On top of this, the film also backtracks in time to show us the same events from another perspective -- that of the three kids on the roof, who meet up with a few of the characters from the first film and eventually with the surviving SWAT team members, whereupon the two narratives join up and a few of the blanks from the first half of the movie are filled in. This makes for much more fluid story development and allows the filmmakers to ratchet up the suspense and terror even more, although it does mean, to some extent, that the film is a much more conventionally told tale than its frantic style would immediately suggest. If anything, the wobbly, sick-making camera gyrations are even more pronounced this time out, in an attempt, perhaps, to distract you from the fact that what you are seeing is a much more structured piece of film-making than you might otherwise have realised. But in this case, the apparently slapdash grungy aesthetic only adds to the atmosphere of embattled desperation which takes hold with ever increasing tenacity as the film progresses.
Also adding yet more chills to the proceedings, the film's potent mythology has been skilfully developed since the original back-story -- which was only vaguely hinted at in the first instalment. Previously described as a zombie film, we should now, it becomes clear, be thinking of this more as a possession film. I mentioned "Demons" before, but the truly haunting way in which the demonic manifestations are elucidated here, makes for some of the most memorably creepy sequences in recent horror cinema -- recalling something of the intensity that first marked William Friedkin's film of "The Exorcist" as so groundbreaking. The revelation that there is actually one intelligent demonic agency behind the apparently crazed rampages of the building's infected inhabitants lifts it onto an entirely new plane of terror, and we end up with an evocative mix of classic Catholic possession flick and Lovecraftian cosmic horror -- especially in the scenes at the film's climax, which take place in the apartment's mouldering, darkened penthouse section.
The film comes to UK DVD with an excellent transfer and fine 5.1 surround mix, but the extras are limited to some minor deleted scenes and a few extended scenes, mainly involving the introduction of the three kids on the roof -- which feels more like a semi-improvised alternative take that happens to run for slightly longer. The Blu-ray version apparently also includes a 'making of' documentary and a behind the scenes featurette.
"[REC] 2" is the most potent, straight-down-the-line rollercoster terror ride of the last ten years, beating its predessesor by some margin for sheer edge-of-the-seat intensity. This is one that every horror fan will be citing for years to come as the pinnacle of this particular sub-genre; the fact that Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza have managed to do this with the apprently clapped-out zombie (or zombie-demon!) flick is little short of astonishing. Strap yourself down and prepare for the most nerve shredding experience of your cinematic life!