It’s now exactly a decade ago that Alex de la Iglesia, one of Spanish new cinema’s enfants terribles, took Spain by storm when his film La Comunidad opened to rave reviews and thus paved the way to a new tendency he had initiated some years before with El Día de la Bestia and that was then thought to mark the beginning of a new genre that, unfortunately, he’s been unable or unwilling to further develop. Ignited by a bravura comeback performance by Almodovar’s erstwhile muse Carmen Maura, La Comunidad was a stunningly satistying hydrid of Spanish Costumbrism and horror thriller.
At the same time a bunch of young filmmakers, driven by the success of de la Iglesia’s films and specially of Alejandro Amenábar’s disturbing debut Tesis, realised that the answer to the eternal box office conundrum of Spanish cinema was possibly to be found in a local adaptation of Wes Craven’s teenager snappy shenanigans. Films as unnecessary and forgettable but profitable as El arte de morir, Tuno negro or School Killer are examples of this new wave of Spanish horror flicks.
2007 smash hit Rec was the result of this double tendency. Jaume Balagueró, one of its two helmers, is in fact one of the champions of the group of new directors that kicked off that series of horror movies taking as model the classic American slasher. In fact, Balagueró has never rennounced to the American popular culture influence on his films, as he made it clear in some of his casting choices (Oscar winner Anna Paquin in Darkness or Calista ‘Ally McBeal’ Flockhart in Frágiles). Scream and I know what you did last summer aside, the references for Rec go further back to George A. Romero’s classic zombie films and, especially Scream creator’s 1972 The Last House on the Left and 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in its use of documenatery techniques in order to induce fear and terror in viewers. A classical zombie horror genre movie, Rec is also a perfect example of Blair Witch-ish mockumentary, most notably thanks to the nause-inducing handheld camera work.
However, the influence of Alex de la Iglesia’s characteristic Spanish horror costumbrism on Rec, especially that of La Comunidad, is obvious not only on the choice of a tenement building as space of the action but in its extraordinary first 45 minutes, which featured some of the most memorable dialogue ever found in a horror movie and that effectively contributed to build up the tension for the stomach-churning second part.
(SPOILER!!! Don’t read further if you haven’t seen Rec 2 yet)
Rec 2 picks up literally where the first part left off. One of the first triumphs of the film is to offer the viewer a brief glimpse of what’s going on outside the building where terror reigns. That is a scene that the viewer of the first part is uncounsciously longing for, but both the first person perspective and the claustrophobic approach of the film made it impossible to justify.
The second wise move of the directors is to rennounce to the exclusive one-person-perspective, lineal structure of the first part while remaining fundamentally true to its original spirit. Rec 2 is, like its predecessor, a mockumentary, but the one person approach that could have overloaded the structure of the sequel is here smartly avoided through the use of multiple head cams by the different SWAT team members. Moreover, the lineal structure is effectively deconstructed in three acts, two of which occur simultaneously but are offered to the viewer as two consecutive plot episodes that collide when the batteries of the plot (and literally of the cameras) start to fail and the much missed until then Rec 1 star Manuela Velasco comes back to ignite the otherwise dissapointing final showdown.
Rec 2 is not a memorable film, but few could argue against the fact that this is as good a sequel as the filmmakers could have done, the main flaw of the film being its too obvious explicitation of plot and image. One of the virtues of the original was its ability to stimulate the viewer’s imagination through a blank scene and an unresolved mystery and it’s a pity that Balagueró and Plaza seem to have forgotten this universally acknowledged but so often ignored fact in the follow-up.