Once upon a time (2007), in a land far, far away (Spain), two men (Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza) did something very special, and shared it with the rest of the world. Their gift to us all, titled '[rec]' (as in, the symbol of a camcorder recording), was, bar none, the greatest handheld camera film made, period. Better than any American horror film in who knows how many years, it was a great mixture of both style and substance, with the visual tools allowing the plot devices to unfold like clockwork.
Sadly, '[rec]' didn't get too much attention for what it was. That soon changed, though, for in 2008, American filmmakers did what they often do best: remake and ruin any original and entertaining film not made in English. The remake made mention that it was "inspired" by '[rec],' but the credits should have stated, if they were honest, "a blatant copy/paste job and butchering" of. Much like Gus Van Sant's 'Psycho,' there was no reason to redo the film, other than an obvious cash grab by writers hungry to ride on the coattails of those who actually had a creative thought. Heaven forbid.
Thankfully (and considering Hollywood's remake-crazy, extremely unoriginal state, amazingly), the original film got a sequel. And not just any sequel - one utilizing the same set (fleshing it out just slightly), and the same writers and directors. Better yet, this sequel isn't just a rehash of what we've already seen; rather, we get to learn more about the events of the original, as this story picks up within two hours of where the last film left off, and we get new twists and scenarios. This isn't like 'Friday the 13th' or 'A Nightmare on Elm Street,' where it's just new batches of fodder for the villain(s) to slaughter, with the same worn out story.
A building has been quarantined. Access in and out is strictly forbidden. Snipers are waiting to fire on anyone trying to get through any windows. A sheet of plastic separates the world within from the world without. The public thinks there's possibly an airborne virus inside, but nothing else. Those who know the truth...they're much, much more concerned about containing the outbreak found within. A team of four SWAT members and a member of the Ministry of Health, all armed to the teeth, are sent in to collect samples and investigate. No amount of preparation, however, can prepare them for what they're about to uncover.
'[rec]' worked, amazingly well, and didn't need to reveal the real origin of the outbreak. We got our little hints, yes, that this was engineered, and spread by accident, and saw plenty of religious artifacts in the penthouse (the uppermost room in the building), but the symbolism and purpose was never disclosed...until now. '[rec] 2' puts a massive spin on the original by revealing in the first act the cause and origin of the outbreak. We, the audience, don't get too much time to think about it, but have to accept it, as things quickly spiral out of control as we find out more hidden truths about this disease.
This sequel, rather than fouling up what was created before it, expands upon the grave tension and sense of urgent desperation set forth in the original, despite the fact that it isn't balls-to-the-walls loaded with infected inhabitants. Far from it. Much like '[rec],' the setups for jump scares become obvious, but they're still beyond effective. It's like being at the plate for a hundred-mile-an-hour fastball. You know it's coming, but you can't really be prepared for it, regardless. The scares are still there, and yes, this film is genuinely scary.
Though, really, not as scary as the original.
'[rec]' was bloody evil, bloody, and evil. We'd see internal conflicts within survivors as their fear changed who and what they were, as their numbers dwindled, and their attackers multiplied. We still have that exact setup here, with the difference being the original didn't give us an inch to breathe, as any time it did, it was only getting ready to try to make us wet ourselves instead. The sequel provides many more "breather" moments, as we enter into a fractured timeline, one of the neater elements of the film.
'[rec] 2' doesn't rely on a single camera. The group of four SWAT members are equipped with four cams - the larger unit, and helmet installed cams that could be displayed on the shoulder unit. Additionally, when a desperate father (and three foolish youths) find their way in through the sewer (an exit/entrance soon removed), one of the teens has a camcorder. We even get to see more footage from the camera used in the original, the newscrew cam that was equipped with night vision. When one camera is knocked out of commission, or out of charge, we get to see another viewpoint of the events in the film, until stories again diverge and the main plot is continued. Sure, one could easily argue the father/teenagers subplot could have been removed completely, with the entire screentime they occupied filled with more angst and dreadfully outnumbered moments, but atmosphere is what creates the scares, and with the sidestep, we get a nice set-up that fits wonderfully into the grand scheme.
As much as I'd like to discuss the real origins of the outbreak, to do so would ruin much of the fun of discovering it along with the SWAT members, as they realize how screwed they all are. '[rec] 2' isn't a "huge twist" film, though there are a few forks in the road. There are some very imaginative, creative, borderline epic uses of practical effects that work perfectly to sell a truly disturbing, unreal-to-the-point-that-one-wants-to-leave-the-lights-on-all-night atmosphere of dread and evil, and it's best this review leave that thought right there, so that fans can discover with awe the wonderful minds at work when they first experience this film.
American horror has long been about as moldy and stale as a pizza left out for a year on a kitchen counter. It apparently takes minds from outside the system to create something truly memorable, and that is what the '[rec]' series is. This sequel, try as it might, doesn't reach the heights of the first film in this series (which will soon be getting two more sequels, titled '[rec] Genesis' and '[rec] Apocalypse'), but that doesn't mean it isn't an amazing film. It really doesn't stand on its own two legs, as it is a continuation and revelation of the first, but '[rec] 2' does have a great balance of scares, with intelligent writing and ideas that leave one wanting to revisit the original as soon as the credits roll. This is not a film for the squeamish, faint of heart, or those not looking to truly get a good scare. Even with soldiers with high powered assault rifles, there is plenty to be afraid of, and there truly is no escape from the terror that resides within.
The Disc: Vital Stats
While there has been no announcement of a domestic release of '[rec] 2,' there are a handful of countries that already have the film released on Blu-ray. The New Zealand edition was the first one to be rumored as English friendly, but the Spanish edition (which is being reviewed here) is most certainly a viable alternative. The film is housed on a Region A friendly (playable in a Playstation 3, no less!) BD50, inside a standard thickness case. A word of warning, though: much like the menu for the Spanish import of '[rec],' this menu by itself is more unsettling and scarier than anything that has come out of Hollywood in some time.
Warner Bros. brings '[rec] 2' to Blu-ray with an AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1080p in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. That is great, great news, since, unlike the Spanish version of '[rec],' it is 100 percent compatible with a USA Playstation 3, whereas the very finnicky original limited itself to a handful of players that had to be 1080i/50 capable.
'[rec] 2' isn't a pretty film. It is not my intention to wander into spoiler territory saying this, but there are numerous different cameras used in this film, and each one has a distinct aesthetic. It gives the film some serious moodiness, to be sure, and some realism, as well as some neat technological doo-dads. The entire film, much like the original and the crap remake of said original, is filmed in a handheld fashion, much like 'Cloverfield,' 'Diary of the Dead,' or 'Paranormal Activity.' This means it can be hard at times to focus on the events on screen, as they often move very, very fast.
The main camera in the film provides the best visuals, bar none. It is utterly striking. Delineation is beyond superb, and detail is absolutely phenomenal in mid-range shots, with facial features, various set pieces and decay, and clothing patterns all leaping from their surfaces. Colors are a tad skewed, but the whole film is a bit dark, affecting color clarity and vibrancy. Reds, though, leap, and from the moment we enter the complex and see every inch of the floor covered completely in blood, they're realistic and pretty unsightly. Grain levels are more restrained, but that won't be the case for the next camera used. With the main camera, sometimes we get feeds from the helmet-installed cams of the three other soldiers, and they're nowhere near as clear, and somewhat blocky. Grain levels are restrained completely, though, but chroma fringing pops up regularly.
The cheaper handicam used initially by the younger participants in the film is riddled with problems. Chroma fringing is obscene in its frequency and size, and lousy delineation/crushing, blockiness, excessive grain...you name it, it's there. But, realistically, it isn't some awesome expensive camera. It's the camera a few nitwit kids are using to film an attempt to propel a blowup doll in the air using fireworks. You can't expect kids that stupid, in a lower-mid class neighborhood, no less, to have fancy equipment.
As the film progresses, we get a visit from yet another camera, one that is much more familiar to us, and get the trademark night vision bonus. The spotlight on said camera blows out all colors, so it is again a matter of realism versus practicality. Throughout all the cameras, skintones are fairly random in appearance, and extremely influenced by lighting or the lack thereof. It is really fun to watch the cameras begin to fail, and see the visual errors they sustain due to the abuse they take, regardless of the fact that it is messing up the picture. There is no banding, artifacting, aliasing, or DNR, so this is one of those films that just never will be a high scorer, due to limitations in the source material itself, which are the result of stylistic decisions - the very stylistic decisions that tie into the film's theme.
'[rec] 2' arrives on Blu-ray with not too many choices in the audio department. For sound, there's a Castilian Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, with optional English subtitles. I say "optional," as they do not default as on. One must keep in mind this disc is from Spain, so the fact we even get English subs is absolutely great. The Spanish Blu-ray for '[rec]' also had an English dub, but forcing people to watch a film in its native language isn't a bad thing, by any means.
The American remake of the original had nothing going for it, other than the superb audio track found on the Blu-ray. We don't get a track quite that good here, but this mix is a step up from the Spanish Blu-ray of the original '[rec].' Range is beyond phenomenal, and is out in full display at all times. Shrieks and camera squeals and blips register at ungodly high frequencies, to the point where I am thankful I can still hear those pitches. It is incredibly disturbing and unsettling, and the perfect environment for a film like this. Bass levels? Lawdy, lawdy, they're righteous. The surveillance helicopter doesn't do the wind dispersement as it did in 'Quarantine,' but instead has a deep, deep bass rumble as it passes, though it never really circles the room like it should, realistically. My subwoofer pulsed and throbbed like it was possessed, with the tensest atmospheres imaginable. Localization effects are on display from the start, as we get communcation between squad members and their man behind the bigger cam. Volume ranges are accurate, to boot, as the closer we creep to the big cam, the louder people get, and the more muffled they get, due to proximity to the mic. Sniper rifle fire presents some movement, but it is beyond unrealistic. There's a bit of intentional audio distortion to be found, as the cameras do get thrashed around from time to time, and much like the attacked video, audio would realistically suffer as well.
There are some severe logic flaws in the audio mix that are the fault of the sound design for the film, not the mix itself, that hold the entire package back. Either the Spanish military have to stop and refuel their lone helicopter on the scene every five or so minutes, or the pilot is out busy doing the whole 'Blue Thunder' peepshow thing quite often, as the noise from said chopper disappears far too frequently in this film. Additionally, the incredibly hefty bass levels find themselves overwhelming dialogue, as do some of the more prolonged screeches. That isn't a massive deal, considering I had to read the film to understand it, but it did seem odd to bury dialogue so deep.