What Is the Best 'REC' Horror Movie?
Eight years after the resounding success of The Blair Witch Project, Spanish directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza decided to retrieve the found footage genre and make a movie about it, set in Barcelona.
The result? A fantastic horror movie followed by three sequels and a two-movie US remake.
Ranking the saga of [REC] (and its remake, Quarantine) was an interesting exercise. For example, not everything is found footage in the saga. There are movies that are carbon copies of others. There is even self-parody and black humor in this batch.
The saga has had highs and lows quite pronounced, but the technical quality has been there, always ready to entertain. Even with its flaws, there is no mediocre REC/Quarantine movie. And that, even with some forgettable entries, is a great merit.
Here is our countdown to the best REC horror movie.
6) Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011)
Without a doubt, Quarantine 2: Terminal is the worst thing that came out of the success of [REC]. And considering how OK this film directed by John Pogue is, the truth is that the legacy of the saga is in very good health.
The first thing that this sequel does is to completely eliminate any resemblance with its original Spanish counterpart. While Quarantine was following frame by frame the shots of [REC], Quarantine 2: Terminal takes its own course and tells its own story.
The story follows a flight attendant as she sets out to start her work on a small flight from Los Angeles to Nashville. The flight is strategically almost empty, which allows showing the other passengers on almost equal terms.
Of course, a lab rat's bite will start an outbreak inside the plane, which, to the surprise of those who expected a Snakes On A Plane with zombies, is landed and its terminal quarantined.
Quarantine 2 moves away from the religious background of the Spanish films and focuses on the bioterrorism of a radical group that considers it's time to cleanse the planet, Thanos Style, to give it a chance of survival.
The gore is not a big thing here, nor the makeup department either. The strongest point (and that doesn't mean is exactly "strong") in this movie is the forced empathy on some of their characters, such as a pregnant woman or an unaccompanied minor. Cheap, but effective.
Quarantine 2 even makes a cute attempt to develop some of its characters, but its shortcomings make it clear that maybe the movie should have been focused on its more shallow elements.
Quarantine 2: Terminal offers absolutely nothing new to the genre. And although the fact that it didn't photocopy [REC] 2 was really welcomed, the final product is so forgettable that there is no way this movie could occupy a higher place in this ranking.
5) [REC] 4: Apocalypse (2014)
After the agreement to separate creatively from Paco Plaza after [REC] 2, Jaume Balaguero returned to fulfill his part and direct the fourth and last part of the saga.
The wait was really long. [REC] 3 didn't answer any questions but instead concentrated on its own beautiful madness. Five years had to pass from that cliffhanger on [REC] 2 so that someone would have the kindness to return and finish telling us what happened on that cursed building in Barcelona. Unfortunately, Balaguero arrived too late for the people to really care.
In the end, the answer of the whereabouts of the Barcelona devil finding its end in a boring oil tanker ship seemed not to impress anyone.
The truth is, the last chapter of the saga didn't feel like what we already knew. There is no found-footage style. No quarantined building. There is no Medeiros girl. There is no horror lurking in friendly and everyday spaces. There are only traditional cinematography and a grayish, clinical ship far away from civilization.
Yes, Angela, the protagonist of the first two [REC], returns, but the heart of the audience cannot be with her because the film deceives us convincing us that she is the villain of the story. Instead, Balaguero forces us to empathize with a lot (like a lot, there's a ship full of them) of unknown characters, which evidently turns out to be a failure.
[REC] 4: Apocalypse is a solid zombie outbreak horror movie. But it moved too far from the elements that made REC a successful saga, without offering an interesting alternative.
That's why this is, without a doubt, the weakest entry of the four Spanish movies.
4) Quarantine (2008)
The great Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter's sister) stars in the American remake of [REC], directed by John Erick Dowdle.
And YES. Quarantine is an effective, good-quality found footage horror movie, led by a talented actress, with strange beauty and great charisma.
Quarantine's only HUGE problem is that its only reason for existence was the laziness of the American audience on reading subtitles. Released just one year after [REC], Quarantine is a pretty obvious Hollywood attempt at wanting to cash in and take advantage of a good foreign idea.
The only thing that Quarantine does differently is to ignore the supernatural religious background of the Spanish saga, replacing it with a sub-plot of a doomsday cult that uses biological terrorism for its plans. But that "change" was made literally by simply changing the headlines of the newspapers found in the final location of the movie.
Everything else is exactly like [REC]. A carbon copy. The structure, the jokes, the location, the type of neighbors. Even the blocking and choreography of the scenes is 80% equal to [REC].
The fact of emulating a movie to that level makes that many of the performances feel too forced and rehearsed, even with good casting. Quite simply, the fluidity and improvisation of [REC] cannot be replicated if you are going to mimic its actions that accurately.
Quarantine makes ZERO effort in really adapting the Spanish movie to the Californian context in which it happens. It's not an exaggeration: The only truly different thing between the two movies is that the characters speak English in Quarantine.
Not even the legendary Doug Jones (the man under the costumes of creatures featured in movies like Pan's Labyrinth or Hellboy) manages to overcome--or add something different--to the amazing work of Javier Botet in [REC].
In other words, do yourself a favor and go directly to the original source. Go watch [REC], even if you have to read some subtitles. It's not that hard.
3) [REC] 2 (2009)
No one can ever say that [REC] 2 didn't offer what a sequel should give.
[REC] 2 not only gave big answers but exponentially expanded its universe and took greater risks in the narrative.
And in addition, it did all that keeping the identity of what we already liked about [REC]. That is, the disturbing found footage that shows a horrific thing invading our intimate spaces.
Balaguero and Plaza take up the action right where they left it. The Spanish government has decided to escalate its response and now a special police command, led by a specialist doctor (later revealed to be a priest), will enter the building to control the situation.
The action in [REC] 2 increases frantically. Here, they literally bring the big guns, because the building is already infested with zombies-demons, who won't hesitate a second to start their incessant attack.
[REC] 2 assumes the greatest risk and completely embraces its supernatural religious vein. There are rosaries and mantras that neutralize demons, and a convenient gimmick about how there are elements that can only be seen in the dark (hence, the camera's night vision option) that work very well.
In addition, when we finally know the whereabouts of Angela, the protagonist of [REC], we are left with a perfectly planned and executed wonderful bittersweet feeling.
[REC] 2 is not afraid to divide its audience, in order to expand its universe in its own way, without concessions. Unfortunately, there are a few similar cases in the industry today. And only for that, this movie deserves praise.
2) [REC] 3: Genesis (2012)
From the very start, [REC] 3: Genesis is a self-parody. It's set in a wedding, at the exact moment when the directors behind the saga, Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero, were creatively divorcing.
[REC] 3: Genesis is also the obvious answer to the reason for that separation. This entry, directed by Paco Plaza, is a drastic tonal departure from what we knew about the saga. This seems more like an Alex de la Iglesia's fever dream than the straight-up horror committed found footage of the first two installments.
Speaking of which, only the first act, the least interesting one, is narrated with found footage style. 80% of the remaining movie, is told through traditional cinematography.
The amazing thing is that [REC] 3: Genesis has so much personality and such a good twisted sense of humor, that the weird experiment works perfectly. It's a glorious self-parody, full of memorable moments.
[REC] 3: Genesis also has an exquisite low-key comedic commentary about the dark side of weddings, reinforced by its fantastic character design. From the bridezilla, chainsaw-bearer Clara (played by Leticia Dolera, who had already starred in an actual parody of [REC] called Spanish Movie), going through "Sponge John" (a cheap version of SpongeBob to evade paying royalties), to the bride Koldo disguised as Saint Jordi. The madness of this movie is just exquisite and hilarious.
When separating, the accord between Balaguero and Plaza was that each one would direct a last installment of the saga. Plaza would be free to drain his humorous a-la-Evil-Dead-2 humor, and Balaguero would have the responsibility of concluding the story. If you are looking for fun this is probably the best REC zombie movie of our ranking.
And boy oh boy, Plaza, without any narrative responsibilities, got away with it.
What is the best REC movie of the saga?
1) [REC] (2007)
Without a doubt, the original one, the one that started everything, remains the best REC horror movie of the whole saga.
[REC] meant a resurgence of the found footage sub-genre, evolving logically to territories closer to the gore and the horror outbreak.
Where The Blair Witch Project worked without showing anything thanks to the innovation of the medium, [REC] assumes found footage as something common (and boy how time, with the rise of smartphones and Instagram, prove it right) and decides rather let the horror invade our daily spaces.
In less than an hour and a half [REC] manages to go to the superficial and silly filming of a light and funny TV show, to the most shocking horror ever experienced in an attic.
Plaza and Balaguero achieved that their cast reacted and improvised genuinely, thanks to the possibility of shooting chronologically and the fact of giving daily scripts, which allowed the actors to easily enter in the uncertainty of their situation since they didn't really have information about their characters.
That is why, even though this is a festival of unbearable cries and screams, [REC] is somehow plausible and credible.
Also, when [REC] is committed to the odd, it does it amazingly. The girl Medeiros played masterfully by Javier Botet, is one of the most frightening characters in horror modern movies.
[REC] is much more than just a well-directed gimmick. Its script is a fantastic allegory about the fear of the immigrant and the dark side of living in a community. [REC] takes advantage of the urgency, exploiting the distrust of the neighbor and the uncertainty of different families living in the same place, by being forced to survive together. If you are looking for more zombie movies check out our list here.
© 2020 Sam Shepards