Friday, October 3, 2008

Night 3: [•REC]

A week from now, an American film called Quarantine will hit theaters, just in time to make a big, bloody splash for Halloween. I've read that the producers have launched a viral ad campaign to build word of mouth, but so far the I haven't seen squat besides a television trailer that, despite being very brief, still manages to reveal too much. What these ads certainly won't tell you is that Quarantine is a remake of a Spanish film from last year called [•REC] (as in the label on a camcorder's record button). And I'm here to tell you, following last night's viewing, that [•REC] is among the most frightening films of the decade. The rumor is that Quarantine is a shot-for-shot remake (a quick viewing of the trailer shows otherwise) but I guarantee you Hollywood finds a way to ruin it. Even if they somehow manage to retain much of what makes [•REC] so good, there are solid reasons why I strongly recommend that everyone skip Quarantine and buy a copy of [•REC] (yeah, I know, not very likely) or at least wait until it is available for rental. **

First and foremost, we should honor the original creators of good films and not feed into Hollywood's incessant need to Americanize everything. It's pathetic and reinforces the cynical perception that all Americans are cultural xenophobes. Well, we are, you might argue and you'd be right, but why not buck the trend this time?

Secondly, consider the setting. European apartment buildings have an inherent atmosphere that their American counterparts simply do not. The structures are older, and their inhabitants have usually lived there considerably longer; thus these buildings have had time to acquire a thick patina of humanity that renders their corridors more claustrophobic, more mysterious, simply more apt for a horror film. Moreover, the ending makes less sense in the States, and these events happening abroad (outside our myopic purview) give the film another layer of realism. If it had to be remade in the U.S., it should have been set in New York, not L.A..

Thirdly, we have the inhabitants themselves. I hope nobody takes offense to this, but much of what gives
[•REC] its white-knuckle momentum is the way these high-strung Spaniards completely flip their lids in such a uniquely Spanish manner. I have a hard time believing that jaded American actors are going to deliver equally believable performances.

Lastly, we have all the subtle touches that make
[•REC] so compelling, like the morally conflicted cop (rare in America), the genuinely funny interviews with the confused old couple and the gay bigot, and the amateur zeal of the histrionic "reporter." The sound effects are also kick-ass--realistic and otherworldly at the same time. There is no music in [•REC] (until the closing credits), no title sequence, nothing to distract from the notion that what's happening is real. The odds of Quarantine nailing these details are not particularly good.

I'm not going to say anything more about
[•REC] other than to proclaim the last five minutes equal to anything in the history of the genre. I originally watched this film knowing next to nothing about it and that is, ideally, how everyone should see it. Last night was actually my second viewing and the fact that it still left me completely shaken and disturbed has convinced me that what we have here is the genuine article.

Now, undoubtedly there will be some people who simply don't get it. Who refuse to suspend their disbelief and run with the bulls on this one. Sure, there are one or two clumsy moments and the concept itself is not new. Many will watch it simply to say that it didn't frighten them. Others will focus on the "found footage" aspect and call it just another
Blair Witch ripoff or even worse, a Cloverfield clone (which this film actually predates). The fact of the matter is, the faux-documentary technique (as used in horror films) goes back at least as far as 1980, when Ruggero Deodato unleashed Cannibal Holocaust on the world and forever sealed his place in the annals of horrordom. Anyone who doubts the power of this form might be interested to know that Deodato was actually accused of making a snuff film in Italian court and only managed to prove his innocence by bringing his actors out of hiding and showing the magistrates how certain effects were achieved. What makes [•REC] the best example of this growing subgenre so far is that it has the best rationalization for why the cameraman keeps filming, particularly during the harrowing finale.

Scorecard (out of ten skulls):
Scare Factor:

My psychological status:
still shaking, yet oddly vindicated

** Sadly, Sony/Columbia, the makers of Quarantine, also own the American distribution rights to [•REC] and are shelving its release on DVD until after their remake hits the small screens (early 2009, at the soonest). Welcome to America, everybody, the land of free trade! Can anyone say bittorent?

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