FEATURE: Shocktober - [REC]

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here.

Released in 2007, [REC] is a Spanish horror that follows late night TV show host Angela and her camera-man Pablo head out to follow and record a night in the life of firefighters. They're called to what is seemingly a routine incident involving a woman screaming inside her apartment. However, it soon turns out to be anything but as they are sealed in with the residents after a health scare that eventually involves a whole lot of biting and hysteria.

I have never found zombie films all that scary. Chilling, yes. Disturbing, yes. But it's a rare zombie film that actually might give me nightmares. I'd been told before that [REC] might change that pattern, but hadn't really believed it. Ah the hubris of a horror movie fan. It catches you out when you least expect it and I wasn't quite prepared for just how terrifying [REC] would be. I'm pretty glad I watched it in daylight in actual fact (albeit with lights off and curtains closed - as best as I could do under the circumstances).

Put simply, the final twenty minutes of [REC] scared me stupid. And it passed the 'have to pause and make a cup of tea ' around the halfway point (the first film of the month to do so).

The found footage element is rarely used as effectively and economically as it is here, capturing the necessary information as well as providing a deeply unsettling dynamism to the events unfolding before you. There is also an interesting use of the person behind the camera. In the opening scenes, Pablo the cameraman is largely passive. He's spoken to and directed by Angela and occasionally authority figures shout at him to turn the camera off, but acts as the audience's proxy. Cleverly though, as the audience becomes more and more wrapped up in what's going on, so too does Pablo. He starts to get dialogue and by the end of the film, is just as much of a character as anyone else. It's neatly done and an excellent way of keeping your audience hooked.

There's a lot going on in the film that add to the brilliantly tense atmosphere, particularly in the horror mash-up elements. The apartment building setting and the starkly contrasting features of its various rooms give it a haunted house quality, aided by the references to the sealed up penthouse upstairs. It gives the film an underlying Gothic atmosphere, providing a domestic space that swiftly becomes more threatening as the film goes on. When Angela and Pablo finally do make it to the penthouse, the domestic trappings of the house are completely subsumed into something far more sinister (and more akin to the Witch's hut from The Blair Witch Project - yes, back to that again).

Though not strictly zombies as the film makes it clear this is some form of infection, the antagonists prove to be a disturbing for, mostly due to their habit of lurching out at unsuspecting moments. Balaguero and Plaza utilise them effectively within the haunted house context; they're positioned around the house in much the way an interactive exhibit would do, but it rarely feels staged. The found footage element becomes fully immersive as you charge through the house with Angela and Pablo, jumping when they jump and, in my case, yelping when they scream.

[REC] may not be particularly original with its take on the genre and there are a few predictable spots along the way. When you're dealing with a possible zombie-like infection, it's never just going to be tonsillitis and the brief but ominous warnings about the sealed penthouse provide a destination for the climax early on. However, what it does is bring together all of these elements adroitly to produce something that is the very definition of scary. Colour me impressed.

- Becky

You can check out the full list of Shocktober reviews so far here.

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