[REC]2

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.

2 thoughts on “[REC]2

  1. I haven’t had the chance to see the sequel yet, but I find the general point about the amplification effect of sequels fascinating, especially the choice of elements of the original to carry forward by the filmmakers/producers etc. It brings up questions of how much the filmmakers themselves might be expected to understand the successful aspects of their works, and what happens to a film once it is released to the public that makes it into a success or failure, or gives it a cult longevity beyond that originally expected (I guess the best example are films that are seen to be ‘mainstream’ failures and then have a ‘camp’ element found to them that draws in a whole different unintended audience to the picture – such as Mommie Dearest, or those singalong versions of The Sound of Music).

    It often seems that filmmakers in a sequel often seem to pick up on superficially interesting elements (if Neo has one exciting extended chase scene in the original Matrix, lets have three separate twenty minute each chase scenes in the sequels) and neglect those earlier, quieter moments that actually help ground the film. The moments that an audience might not immediately think of when asked to name their favourite parts of the film, but which provide the foundation for the wilder, grander, more ‘cinematic’ events.

    Or if those elements aren’t neglected (either consciously in order to ‘jump straight into the action’, or just not thought to be important), a sequel can often coarsen the effect of the smaller moments, making them seem less naturally arising and instead a copied beat from the earlier film. Attempts to either remain faithful to these beats, or to completely depart from them, can seem that much more mechanical and calculated.

    Sequels are a difficult proposition in that sense, since the audience has gotten their heads around the basic structure of the material that the original had (especially if the original was a great success, thus inspiring fans and repeat viewings to ingrain that structure more deeply in an audience’s mind). Over devotion to the original structure can just seem like repeating the same old tricks and allowing comparisons to be made that they may be not doing the beats as well as they previously did (either due to an audience’s familiarity diluting the shock this time around, or because the film really may have not reproduced the same material as well this time around), while completely departing from audience expectations can run the risk of alienating an returning, expectant audience entirely through taking the story in directions that might not be appreciated either through, as you say, by over explaining elements that might have been more effective left more vague; or by introducing characters that don’t have as much impact as the original group, or have less interesting elements to them (i.e. generic groups of soldiers, or excitable teens), or are more irritatingly broadly played to have any kind of impact whatsoever (another coarsening effect a sequel can have on its original material).

    This may sound as if I don’t like sequels at all. I far prefer them to remakes (and find them fascinating to discuss) since with a remake, while these issues of coarsening and repeating of story beats to a lesser impact are still present, there is a sense that there is no point in complaining about what is just a reiteration of the same basic material. Nothing is added and nothing particular taken away from just choosing the original instead (except perhaps for some of the dignity of the original!). Any sequel, however reluctantly (even something like the Friday the 13th series which tried to just rerun the same situation over and over), has to push their story forward at least a little. It may not be into successful areas, and it may only be the illusion of pushing things forward(!), but a sequel has to at least keep up the pretence of covering new ground – at the same time as providing the expecting fan service to its predecessors.

    In other words sequels need to consider the views of fans of the original, however reluctantly, since they form the core returning audience for the next film. This runs the risk that general audiences feel that they shouldn’t see a sequel, say part VIII of a series, before they see the others however – even when you don’t really need a prior knowledge of a Freddy or Jason film to enjoy any particular chapter (perhaps this is a reason for the coarsening – to keep any chapter of a franchise accessible to a new audience member). Remakes work best with an audience who aren’t hardcore fans of the original (and therefore unpleasable with a retread and too over familiar with the material), but more people who are vaguely aware that there was once an old film called Black Christmas, or Last House On The Left, or whatever, who might conceivably go to see a new version of the film if it gets made, and who will not be up in arms about poor copying, or point missing that may occur.

    I think this attempt to cut out the ‘fanboy’ from the franchise can also be seen in something like Avatar (just the biggest example of something which can be seen in lots of other films from Slumdog Millionaire to 300), in which the film is already packaged as a significant cultural event even before it is released, and both the takings at the box office and the film’s place in the culture is seen as an unarguable foregone conclusion.

    I suppose this is a natural approach for the studios to take though – minimise the variables in the filmmaking process. Unfortunately the ‘variables’ are often the artistic, and most interesting, aspects of films.

    Anyway, I’ve no real idea how I ended up at this point, and apologise for such a long post. Anyway [REC 2] sounds interesting and I’d certainly like to see it, though your piece suggests that I should maybe lower my expectations before I do!

    • Thankyou, Colin. Meticulous and precise as ever. [REC]2 is worth a look – it could’ve been much, much worse. They could’ve just escalated the gore and left it at that, but they show signs of expanding the mythology of the franchise, as if hoping it will bed in for a full-blown saga. They do it in some interesting ways, but the mystique of the original depended on an open ending with two possible interpretations (plague/possession). Some character-driven sequels can work just fine. Enjoyed watching Sherlock Holmes solve a case? Watch him solve another one. And so on. Extended narratives across several films were rarely conceived with that in mind, so they show all their stretch marks.

      Consider the likelihood of hearing the following promotion for a blockbuster sequel: “There’s less action this time round. We’ve made the whole thing a lot lighter, less intense and just had some fun with the characters. We saved money by using cheaper special effects, and some of the favourite characters were getting expensive so we cut them out of the script – they died in the first film anyway, so there was no need to think of a tortuous reason to bring them back just to please the crowd.”

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