I feel obliged to review [REC]2, if only because I gave its predecessor a day in court a couple of years ago. You might remember the story so far – a cameraman and a reporter are following the fire brigade on their nightly duties for a local TV documentary. The crew are sent to investigate what turns out to be the outbreak of a virus in an apartment block. Lots of quasi-zombie, flesh-chewing mayhem ensues as the authorities quarantine all the survivors, blocking all the exits and trapping them inside. Taking refuge in the top-floor flat, the camera team discover the true origins of the disease that is taking over the building.This time around, a SWAT time is infiltrating the building to locate and destroy the ongoing threat, and they quickly fall foul of the undead tenants ,who are still a bit angry.
This sequel does little to build upon the original, even though it explains much of the mythology that was left unexplained at the end of the first film. [REC] ended with gestures towards an explanation, but there was enough ambiguity to leave questions hanging; resolving them is not necessarily satisfying: a cliffhanger doesn’t always need resolution, just as lingering fear doesn’t need salving when it comes to constructing an enduring horror film. Revealing its commercial opportunism, [REC]2 even contrives a return for its lead actress (Manuela Velasco), whose presence provided an engaging centrepoint first time around, and devotes a good deal of energy to convincing us that what we saw first time round was not quite as it seemed (there’s a clever trick involving night-vision that tilts everything a bit too far in the favour of the supernatural). This might all undermine the aim of the original, where the power of a situated camera to reveal and to add a sense of immediacy to a situation of mortal urgency; the complicating action detracts form the ruthless efficiency that made [REC] such an effective exploitation pic.
[REC]2 also has next to no downtime. There’s hardly a moment where there is no immediate threat, and because it rushes straight into the action and terror from the outset, there’s no time for the slow build of the first film, where what started out as a documentary following a fire crew became a hellish siege pitting a dwindling group of survivors against seething hordes of the possessed. This might please those who are looking for action and gore, but to craft a sense of creeping terror, a horror film needs silence between the screams, exhausted collapse between the running and fighting.
Despite the pretence that it is mostly shot with headmounted cameras, [REC]2 looks too much like a professionally shot film. The camera movements are too smooth to be believable as the prosthesis of a terrified SWAT guy, and the potentially interesting addition of inset live feeds to show two images from two locations at once is not exploited for the possibilities it offers. Having multiple cameras dissipates some of the tension that was generated by having the first-film’s POV the sole centre of an ever-diminishing area of safety.
There are two truly terrifying things in the first film, which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it, and they are replicated here. Failing to find new horrors, the filmmakers fall back on the greatest hits from the first time around, escalating them to a tiresome level. It will pass its short running time with a snappy string of set-pieces, but it’s a cash-in more than a development. The makers of Paranormal Activity should learn a lesson here.