The sequel to the 2007 Spanish surprise-spook hit (itself already remade in English as 2008’s Quarantine) returns to the blood-diseased Barcelona tenement just minutes after the first film’s last survivor was dragged screaming into the dark. Like the original it’s a handycam horror, but this one’s concocted two more excuses for two new groups of victims to record their own deaths. And like its premise, the quality has deteriorated like a dubbed VHS. Hardcore horror fans made the film [REC] into a commendable crossover success–fewer will flock to the sequel, but enough to justify production company Filmax’s announcement that two more [REC] films are in the works.
The first horror flicks shot as first person nightmares were really taking on two enemies: the monster itself and the modern need to record everything. Part of the psychodrama of The Blair Witch Project was railing at the filmmakers to put down the camera and run. That camera made them culpable of their own demise–a theme George A. Romero picked up in Survival of the Dead and filmmakers Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza did in the original [REC]. The act of carrying a camera into danger is narcissistic; it says that you trust you’ll live long enough to get famous from your footage. But the directors–and their audience–know that “found footage” means only the tape survived. And here, when a Spanish SWAT officer says “Make me look handsome” to the handycam, we’re already writing his obituary.
He and his team are entering a quarantined apartment building as the armed guards of a government official named Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor) hunting for a cure for the zombies gnawing on their neighbors. Once inside, Owen reveals himself as a priest–and worse, reveals that the zombies are actually possessed by a demon virus carried by Spain’s answer to Linda Blair. Yes, this is the Apartment Complex of the Damned, at once banal and bloody. The squad scoffs. So do we. And the writer/directors Balagueró, Plaza and Manu Díez can’t command our fear.
For one, they’re so desperate to scare us there’s no logic to their monsters. Sometimes they crawl on the ceiling. Sometimes they run fast on the ground. Sometimes they’re blind and mad. Other times they enjoy listening to records. They’re so inconsistent, they’re artificial and innocuous. In the infected’s first attack, Owen defeats a devil zombie with prayer. Score! So why don’t they keep praying?
A movie that overrules logic irritates its audience; we don’t like to be reminded that there’s a writer pulling the strings. And here, the POV horror is a conceit as well as a distraction, a crutch to create suspense from shaky, dark footage. With the entrance of a team of teenagers in search of YouTube glory, the film leaps back in time to show how they unknowingly intersected with the SWAT. It’s a nifty idea that bores the filmmakers within 20 minutes, after which they forget about the kids entirely. If [REC] 2 can’t care for its characters, why should we?