Saturday, 11 August 2012


Zombies were just another subgenre in 2002. Horror had surfed the mainstream wave of the Scream trilogy and was looking for the next big gimmick (it would find it in J-horror remakes). Resident Evil 2002 was successful and effective but added nothing to the folklore. Autumn saw the release of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later 2002. It was a game changer. It was the rise of the zombies.

In 2002 Danny Boyle was a former indie darling (Trainspotting 1996) and a Hollywood director (The Beach 2000)1. There was mainstream interest in his next project. Using a ruse similar to that used to promote The Crying Game 1992 he insisted that the casualties in 28 Days Later were not zombies but were ‘infected’. Thus, the doors of the auditorium were opened to a whole new market.
1 Boyle has since become a mainstream commercial and critical darling with an Academy Award (Slumdog Millionaire2 2008) whilst retaining his indie cred (127 Hours 2010).

The difference between Boyle’s Infected and George A. Romero’s zombies is speed. There have been fast zombies before (The Return of the Living Dead 1985) but Boyle’s film focussed solely on that attribute. Its resulting success – a worldwide (all figures adjusted for inflation) $105million3  on a $10m production budget – made a whole industry beyond Hollywood and the movies take note4. 28 Days Later is the second most influential zombie film ever made. Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza took its central conceit and made [REC].

It is one of the best zombie films ever made.
Manuela Velasco: [REC] girl
The Blair Witch Project 1999 utilized Point-of-View storytelling with a faux documentary sensibility. This technique gives the impression of actual events unfolding before camera thereby involving the viewer on a more visceral level than traditional presentation. The film grossed a worldwide $343m5 on a (disputed) production budget of $83k. Its success created its own subgenre – found footage (horror’s current gimmick).

While it is inexpensive to shoot these movies there are narrative limitations. The most glaring is ‘the cameraman who shoots his own death’ (Cloverfield 2008). The few films that succeed in setting up the concept and presenting it as plausible (other than The Blair Witch Project) are Paranormal Activity 2009, Apollo18 2011 and [REC].

It is the best found footage film ever made.
 [REC] opens with its Spanish distributor’s logo – and the viewer is thrust into the narrative. As previously noted in Thrill Fiction the audience is not interested in a film’s credits (UK patrons leave the theatre as soon as the end credits start). If the film is a major production with stars and/or a name director then perhaps there is a vanity excuse for displaying those credits before the narrative. Horror films don’t have stars or name directors. They should all follow the example of [REC]6.

6 Scream 1996 and its precursor Popcorn 1991 have a similar method of opening.
The POV format is set up in the first scene. Lead character Angela is a cub reporter taping a fluff piece for local TV. She and Pablo, her off screen cameraman, are going to shadow a fire crew on their night shift. The chief tells Angela an emergency is like the lottery: some nights they get one other nights they don’t. In the George A Romero social commentary tradition of zombie films Angela hopes they get one. 
[REC] Grrl
But there wouldn’t be a film if there wasn’t a call out. Angela and Pablo accompany firefighters Manu and Alex to a routine rescue of a person trapped inside an apartment.

There is ingenuity in simplicity. The best genre films are bare boned (Alien 1979); when they are complicated the result is ridiculous (Prometheus 2012). Angela is the spearhead of [REC]. She is the presenter of ‘While You’re Asleep’ and so Pablo keeps his camera on her. She serves as proxy for the audience. Through her the viewer meets Alex and Manu in relaxed surroundings where they eat and play basketball. An audience relationship is established with Pablo whom Angela trusts.
Romero recalls that the casting of Duane Jones as Ben in Night of the Living Dead 1968 wasn’t planned7. The casting of Manuela Velasco as Angela in [REC] was planned to perfection. In 2007 Velasco’s day job was television presenter – and it shows. Her performance is so convincing it not only carries the film it transposes the cinema into a television news channel. She ranks alongside Patricia Tallman in Night of the Living Dead 1990 as a final girl.

The running time of 75 minutes seems longer because so much happens to so many distinct characters. One of the money shots in a zombie film is when a character turns up undead. Romero’s (slow) zombies are horror; Boyle’s (fast) Infected are terror. It is terrifying when a character that has been trying to save Angela turns up to eat her. What is horrifying is in the social commentary tradition when one of the characters points at the Chinese family and blames the foreigners.
second only to the Dead trilogy
[REC] was released in its native Spain in 2007. Before its US DVD premiere in 2009 came Quarantine 2008 – a shot-for-shot remake. A straight-to-video8 sequel Quarantine 2 2011 followed. There have been two sequels to the Spanish original. The final film in the series [REC]4: Apocalypse is coming soon. [REC]’s enduring legacy exists outside of its franchise. The Walking Dead TV series premiered in 2010. Brad Pitt optioned World War Z in 20069 but the film wasn’t greenlit until 201010.  [REC] and [REC]2 inspired filmmakers and convinced financiers: zombies are the next big thing.
[REC] Final Girl
Despite the atrocity that is Genesis the [REC] films are the second best zombie trilogy ever made. As in most franchises/trilogies the first one is the best.

Read more Thrill Fiction: [REC]2
2 Slumdog Millionaire Box Office Mojo
3 28 Days Later Box Office Mojo
4 The Walking Dead comics were published in 2003. The novel World War Z was published in 2006
5 The Blair Witch Project Box Office Mojo
7 Duane Jones in NotLD The Wrap
8 Quarantine 2 release details Dread Central
9 Brad Pitt will produce WWZ Variety
10 World War Z green light Den of Geek
Technorati Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Generated By Technorati Tag Generator
blog comments powered by Disqus