[Rec] and Ruin: Sequel Edition

12/04/2009 1:31 PM |

[Rec] 2
Directed by Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza

Like its nearly identical and essentially interchangeable American remake Quarantine, the Spanish horror film [Rec] was literally a thriller of escalation: as the movie progressed, and the tension mounted, our characters climbed the stairs of the Barcelona apartment complex in which they’d been, um, quarantined, the last surviving characters ultimately meeting their violent ends in the building’s penthouse. In the sequel, [Rec] 2, which in the Grand Horror Tradition of The Bride of Frankenstein and Halloween II picks up where its precursor left off, the characters move around the premises more liberally: while making a quick survey of the splattery remnants of the last film’s carnage, our heroes go straight to the top floor, then down a few flights, then back up to the penthouse, into a crowning crawlspace (for a nod to Alien, of course), and so on. The excitement follows suit: the dread in [Rec] mounted relentlessly; [Rec] 2 is a lot of ups-and-downs.

And that’s despite the fact that the sequel borrows the aesthetic that made the first film such a success: the long takes that beget unbearable suspense; a handheld, subjective camera that makes the proceedings feel as raw and chaotic as a real experience. This film first follows a SWAT team that accompanies a health expert (or is he?) into the sealed-off structure; because the film needs them to be, they’re filming the excursion, and because the police force has more sophisticated equipment than [Rec]’s television crew, the filmmaking style is opened up a bit more in comparison to the hermeticism of the original: the point-of-view switches between the special-forces members, each of whose helmets is equipped with a camera. (It allows for attacks viewed in first-person close-up without having to lose the only cameraman.) Halfway, the movie switches to a separate group of characters: some kids who sneak into the building through a sewer, following a fireman and the father alluded to in the original, for a chance at YouTube stardom or a citizen-journalist payday. The shifting points-of-view slow the film down, the tension also broken by expository sequences—the movie seems way too interested in its own mythology, as though to set up a franchise—that the first film avoided with its breathless inexorability.

[Rec] was a remarkable formal exercise with a subtle subtext about the contemporary camera culture, but its sequel is loaded with larger thematic overtones, mostly religious: the rabies-esque, zombifying virus spreading through the compound turns out to be a case of diabolic possession, which the script, written by the directors with Manu Díez, posits as a disease, rooted in science and chemistry. It (sort of) works as an allegory for a pandemic of contagious immorality and godlessness—Balagueró and Plaza prove to be as steeped in Catholicism as other Spanish-language directors like Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron—but the directors aren’t blind apologists for the Church, either: that the infection exists at all is the church’s fault, suggesting an organization that does more harm than good, despite its arguably noble intentions; and, in a terrific touch, many of the infected (i.e. victims) are young children—because, ahem, you know what priests are like.

[Rec] 2 screens Saturday and Sunday nights at 9 p.m. as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Spanish Cinema Now series. Click here for more info. The original [Rec] shows on Sunday at 7:15 p.m.