By: Peter Hall, reprinted from Fantastic Fest 9/29/09
I like that the original [REC]'s real-time unraveling of an apartment building under quarantine for a mysterious virus that turns the infected into fluid spewing, flesh clawing maniacs is logistically conducive to a sequel. I really like that returning filmmakers Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza can pick up from the second they left off and tell another (almost real-time) story still shot entirely in the first-person perspective without being confined to a single camera's viewpoint thanks to our new story proxies by way of a doctor and his four SWAT-team escorts. And I absolutely love how [REC] 2 not only upgrades some aspects of the apartment, of the virus, and of the victims, but it completely overhauls the presentation of the proceedings. Yet I still have one nag.
[REC] 2 is not scary. Not one bit, actually. Even after 4 or 5 viewings (and the American remake, Quarantine), [REC] still turns my circulatory system into a NASCAR event, but none of that pulse dominating terror and anticipation is matched in the sequel. But what Balaguero and Plaza don't deliver in the fear department, they deliver in the idea department. [REC] 2 may not be scary, but it damn sure has more concept and convention re-toolings than you can shake a rail-thin, pale-white, string-haired woman wielding a claw hammer at.
The most influential sequel improvements is the new multi-camera system by way of 4 cameras mounted on the SWAT helmets in addition to one or two hand-held cameras, all of which give us a thrilling view from the perspective of the four SWAT members working their way through the apartment's bowels. The new technique is, perhaps, the best conversion of the first-person-shooter yet to be put to film. I'm a big fan of how visually cool the FPS sequences of Doom turned out to be, but those rare moments were very much so the game convention transplanted on screen. [REC] 2's helmet cameras, on the other hand, are a natural adaptation of that perspective to to a feature film, injecting the viewer directly into the raging conflict while morphing the field of view away from something that looks great on a PC monitor but artificial on the big screen.
While I love the change in the field of view, it's the editing opportunities that amp the adrenaline in [REC] 2. Balaguero and Plaza now have the luxury to deny the viewer the pleasure, pain or safety of one camera's view by cutting into the live feed of another's. It can be a bit tough at first to understand who is who in spatial relation to the others, but it's still an excellent device that changes the game completely. Not only does it remove the necessity for someone to hold a clunky camera (though there still is someone stuck with that gig), but it gives the narrative the freedom to go wherever it wants within the apartment building. So now in addition to hallways and bedrooms we have air ducts and hidden passage ways to explore, two new pathways that keep the manic spirit of the film fresh and on-edge.
There is one flaw with this new multi-camera approach, however, and that's when the film grinds to a halt after a camera outside of the doctor and his SWAT escort emerges. It picks back up, no doubt, but it's a regretful diversion away from who we've spent the better half of the movie with. The flip side of that coin, though, is that this problem only raises its head because of how fascinating the doctor/SWAT ordeal that comprises the majority of the film is. The warpath [REC] 2 takes under the confident command of the doctor in charge, who charges head-first into darkened corridors, is a stimulating men-on-a-mission twist to the script that unfortunately suffers a bit when the potential body count is padded with less-interesting elements.
That's okay, though, because said elements are still only a temporary diversion. Balaguero and Plaza know their biggest selling point is the doctor and his confidential mission to recover a blood sample from the terrifying penthouse the first[REC] ended up in, so a few mere distractions aren't deal breakers. Annoying they may be, the diabolical casket of tricks[REC] 2 has up its blood-soaked sleeves are still strong enough to change the game entirely. There's no need to dive into spoiler territory, but suffice to say [REC] 2 keeps the infectious spirit of its predecessor alive while jumping the track in favor of bigger and better opportunities. Not all of the elements may work, but those that do alter the sequel landscape so severely so that I think it's safe to call [REC] 2 one of the most awesome, re-inventing sequels in years even despite a few hanging threads.