Editor’s note: The Bloody Truth, Calhoun Kersten’s weekly plunge into the deeper meanings of horror cinema, will be moving to Wednesdays starting next week.
With all the horror movies coming out that are either remakes of original American films or the lesser-known American remakes of horror films, it’s difficult to sift through the wreckage. Things aren’t looking great for the genre, but every so often, something comes along that breathes new life into something stale, or reminds us just what it was that made us fall in love with something in the first place. For me, it was the Spanish film [REC]. People had been telling me to watch it ever since it was released, but I’ve never been a big fan of the whole “shaky camera = terror” thing. It’s just tired for me, so I was hesitant to see yet another movie that tried to make it something frightening, but I was surprised by what [REC] brought to the table.
First of all, it’s important to understand that what works for [REC] is fairly “outdated” by American standards. It reached its pinnacle with Scream, and since then, it’s been used in just about every other horror movie, so much so that what started out as a novel idea has become as trite as many of the standard horror go-tos. However, the level of self-awareness that [REC] brings to the screen works well for it. While other movies would rely on it for some of the sight gags or the kills, [REC] acknowledges what it is and proceeds from there. Are there tired elements to this film as well? Certainly, but they’re played for their potential. It has a sense of humor about itself that sometimes borders on inappropriate, but never crosses that line. Instead, it makes for an enjoyable genre film that seems to have no pretensions about being anything else.
Another element of [REC] that surprisingly worked for it was the style. The “shaky camera = terror” thing that I hate so much? Yeah, I was surprised by how effective it was in the film. However, that’s because the camera is treated as the object that it is. You know how all cameras in these types of movies have infinite battery lives, or seem to conveniently catch something that nobody else saw? I’m not sure where people buy these super-powered cameras, but they seem to exist. [REC] plays the camera for its limitations. It doesn’t see anything that the audience or the movie’s characters don’t see. This, of course, leaves the audience in the dark for so much of the film, but it helps when leading up to the conclusion. Also, call me old-fashioned, but I’m always a “less is more” kind of guy, so I personally enjoyed the limitations. They don’t give it away all up front, but instead, they give you plenty of pieces to work with and some realistic gore that is truly impressive.
[REC] is by no means a perfect movie, but then again, horror fans probably gave up on perfect a while ago. Instead, it’s enjoyably atmospheric. It plays the conventions of the genre to its advantage and what results is a thoroughly engaging horror flick.