Friday, September 18, 2009

Toronto FilmFest Reviews: [REC] 2

I wound up seeing a number of movies at the fest that were follow-ups to movies I hadn't seen; this was the first one. The original was a reportedly very scary Spanish zombie movie; it was remade as the apparently less-satisfying Quarantine, which I haven't seen either. So, uh, apologies for any mistakes in what follows. Also, of necessity, I'm going to reveal stuff which I believe was more surprising in the original film.

The sequel begins 15 minutes after the events of the original movie, with a SWAT team prepping to enter a quarantined building along with an official from the Ministry of Health (Jonathan Mellor). Some kind of viral outbreak has caused the inhabitants to start acting very strangely, in a manner familiar to anyone who's seen a zombie movie (though, at first, they seem to be more or less the same as the Infected from 28 Days later, rather than actual undead people). The Health official (I didn't catch his name, sorry) is unusually determined and seems to know more about the outbreak than he's letting on.

It's revealed quickly that the "Health official" is in fact a priest, an agent of the Vatican (God, I love movies with secret agent priests. I'm not even being sarcastic.) and that a former colleague of his is responsible for the outbreak. No mere disease, this is apparently a biologically transmitted form of demonic possession, originating from a single possessed girl. The former owner of the building's penthouse was another Vatican agent who was working on finding a cure, but instead the demonic influence began to spread like a disease. The agent is determined to find a sample of the original girl's blood, something he knows can be used to formulate a cure--and something he can't let any of the SWAT members, or any of the other survivors they encounter, leave without.

I know the original was filmed in real-time from the POV of a camera that existed within the world of the story, like Cloverfield. This movie is the same, and like any sequel provides us with a technological upgrade. In this case, it's the SWAT members who have a digital camera with a feature that lets them cut between the cameras installed in the helmets of the various team members. Another camera is added to the mix in the form of three teenagers who sneak into the building just for kicks, before they realize how serious the situation is. And yet a third camera, this one with an infrared capability, comes along later with a survivor of the original movie (Manuela Velasco). Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza manage to use these cameras quite effectively to tell the story in a mostly seamless manner, with only a little of the nauseating shaky-cam that tends to haunt these things. There are a few times when it seems too convenient, if not outright boneheaded, for everything to be filmed as nicely as it is (near the climax, the other characters are left to grope around in darkness as the cameraman watches from the sideline with the night-vision), but given that it lets us see what's going on clearly, I can't complain too much.

This is a taut and effectively chilling movie that makes great use of locations and atmosphere to get you squirming in your seat. I think the best compliment I can give this movie is that it relies on two worn-out tropes, the zombie movie and the POV-cam movie, yet works tremendously for all that.

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