Reason for filming: A local TV show called “While You’re Asleep” is spending the night in a fire station to show what life is like for the firefighters who work there.
What’s the horror: a deadly zombie virus
Does the dog die? No animal cruelty
Gore factor: Pretty high. There’s a lot of blood and gore in this one.
Re-watch scale: HEAVY rotation. Even though I just watched this one, it was an instant fave. One of the best found footage films out there, in my humble opinion.
Zombies are usually not my thing. And since the pandemic began, neither are movies about deadly viruses that force people into quarantine. But having watched just about every found footage film I could find, I finally decided to give this one a go, since I’d heard so many great things about it. Well, not exactly – I first watched the American version, which was filmed a few years after this one, called Quarantine.
Quarantine was good, but mostly it just made me want to watch the original. And I have to say, the original is better, even for those of you who hate having to read subtitles (personally I always have the subtitles on even with English films, so I’m fine with it). While Quarantine sticks pretty close to the original with its story, it lacks some of Rec’s urgency and chaos and moves at a slightly slower pace. And most importantly, the main character, Angela – the female reporter – in Rec is just far more likeable than Quarantine’s. She comes across as much more down to earth and professional than the Quarantine version, who comes across as much too flirty and, at times, is both a sexual harasser and a victim of sexual harassment, both of which seem to be fine with everyone involved. Quarantine actually has Angela stroll into the firefighter’s showers and film dudes naked – no, seriously, she does – while they strut around bragging about the size of their dicks. This sort of nonsense continues throughout the first 10 or so minutes of the film, before the real action begins, and it’s incredibly off-putting. I found it hard to forgive any of them for their sleazinesss even when they were being face-ripped and slaughtered one by one. None of them come off well in the opening moments, and it does affect how much we care about what happens to them down the line.
But enough about Quarantine. Rec has none of this skeeziness. The Angela in this film is way more focused on trying to get a good story than just hang with the boys and be the Cool Girl. She films the firemen at dinner, playing basketball, even their sleeping quarters when things get dull (but at no point does she follow them into any showers) and basically hopes against hope that a call will come in so they can film the men in action. Oh Angela. You are going to regret the granting of that wish. Which is a shame, because have I mentioned she’s extremely likeable? Because she is.
It only takes about eight minutes from the start of the movie for a call to come in, and off they go. Angela and Pablo, the cameraman, hop a ride on a fire truck with Manu and Alex, the two men who’ve been tasked with escorting the camera crew around on this night.
As the truck arrives at the destination – an apartment building where a report has been called in about an elderly woman trapped in her flat – they see a police car that is already on the scene. “Maybe this is more serious than we thought?” Angela asks while trying not to sound too hopeful. They enter the building, where several of the tenants are milling around in the foyer area. It’s dark and cramped and very echo-y, so the various conversations they’re having among themselves make it sound like there’s a lot more people down there than there are in reality. The crew heads up the stairs where a policeman is waiting in front of an apartment door. Much ado is made of the fact that there’s a camera crew with them, but Angela sticks to her guns, insisting they have permission to film, and tells Pablo to keep the camera running as they enter the apartment. He does.
It’s clear right away that the tenant, Conchita, is in a state. Pablo briefly turns on his camera’s light to reveal that she is also covered in blood. Yikes. As one of the cops approaches her and tries to calm her down so they can get her some help, Conchita goes off. She tackles the cop and basically rips half his face off with her mouth. It’s shocking, and pretty gross. We see Angela run in the opposite direction from the melee (smart move, Angela) while Pablo, ever the professional, turns his light back on and gets right in there to film the good stuff. It’s utter chaos as everyone’s screaming and the men are trying to get Conchita off the cop and drag him to safety. Conchita’s forgotten for the moment (although Alex was instructed to stay with her, ahem) as the team rushes back down the stairs with the bitten cop bleeding profusely. And we’re off, folks.
The men try to rush the cop out of the building, but…there’s a problem. A swarm of policemen are now crowded around the front – we can see the garish flashing of their blue and red lights reflected off the concrete walls – and they refuse to let the men out. They are refusing to let anyone out, it seems, and no one inside knows why. Soon enough they’re given instructions by someone with a bullhorn. “The health authorities have decided to close off the building. Please stay calm and we will get you out as soon as possible.” Unsurprisingly, this announcement generates the opposite of what you would call calm.
Much chaos ensues. The firemen are shouting about needing to get the injured man to a hospital. The one remaining cop is trying to get everyone to follow the instructions of whoever’s outside calling the shots. He’s also trying to get Angela and Pablo to stop filming, but they’re having none of that. And the tenants want to know why they can’t go back to their rooms, at least, but the cop says everyone has to stay downstairs. There are sirens blaring, and lights flashing, and people bitching and shouting, and then – BLAM! Poor Alex slams onto the floor in the background, and it appears he’s been thrown over the first floor railing. It’s another huge shock, and it kicks things up another notch for everyone involved – and thanks to the found-footage POV, the audience is a part of that sad bunch. We’re trapped, and it’s clear there’s something awful going on.
Back up the stairs we go, to find out what the hell Conchita’s been smoking that gave her the strength to chuck a firefighter down a stairwell. She’s not playing around, though, and immediately charges at the team when she sees them, so down Conchita goes in a blaze of bullets. She’s down folks, but I wouldn’t count her out just yet. This zombie thing’s got legs. And teeth.
Things are getting serious now, and the crew is trying to find another way out of the building. But the cops outside are one step ahead of them, and every exit they find is in the process of being blocked and covered with a huge-ass tarp, so they can’t even see out. One woman is holding a daughter, who has a fever and has been waiting for her father to bring them antibiotics, but he can’t enter the building to give them to her. Two men are in the process of bleeding to death. One old lady’s been shot. And everyone’s stuck in the foyer of what’s become a prison. It’s madness. Then there’s another announcement from the bullhorn: A “BNC protocol situation” has been declared, and they’re going to send in a health inspector to assess the situation. BNC, apparently, stands for biological/nuclear/chemical threat situation. Yikes.
But wait, there’s more! Soon everyone’s cell phones stop working. So do their televisions and radios. And the building supervisor, who also happens to be a medical intern, says the two wounded men won’t last much longer. And the little girl’s fever is getting worse. There’s more rushing about trying to find a way to escape, but every exit’s been blocked off. There’s a lull in the action here, as Angela films an update by interviewing some of the tenants about what they’ve seen and what they think is going on, and the intern tries to keep the injured men from dying. An elderly couple bickers with each other about what they think is really going on. A Chinese woman struggles with her Spanish to describe the fireman falling from upstairs. The little girl’s mother threatens to sue when this is all over. Angela interviews her daughter, who tells her she’s sick with tonsillitis, and she misses her dog Max, who’s at the vet. An older dandy who is mostly concerned about his face being shiny and that the camera films him on his good side blames the Chinese for the whole thing, as does Lawsuit Mom a little later on. Ah, racism. It’s not just for Americans.
A health inspector enters, covered by a bright yellow Hazmat suit complete with full head mask. Now that’s reassuring. Off he goes to get some blood samples or something from the wounded men. Angela and Pablo find a way to peek into the area where the injured are being held and film the proceedings. There are handcuffs, and needles, and lots of whispering. And then both of the dying men rise up off the tables and attack. The poor intern gets bitten by Alex. Somehow the health inspector manages to escape, as do Manu and the cop. They lock the intern up inside the room with the two zombies. It’s too late for him. He’s been bitten.
There’s no getting around it now for the health inspector; it’s time to spill the beans. It turns out that a day before a dog was taken to a vet. He was sick, and fell into a coma. All of a sudden the dog roared back to life and started attacking everything in sight. They had to put it down. A microchip led the health department to this very building. “Was the dog named Max?” Angela asks. Yep.
Just as everyone starts to surround Mom and her daughter and demand – I don’t know what – answers? Retribution? – the daughter barfs blood into Mom’s face and runs screaming up the stairs, with her eyes all bugged out and her teeth grown sharp. The mother is trying to chase her daughter up the stairs, understandably, and so to stop this the cop handcuffs her to the stairwell. Then they go up to find the little girl on their own.
They find her, all right. And in trying to save her the last remaining cop gets bit, and tells the rest of the team to leave him there. They do. It’s a smart move, even if it is a futile one, because this thing is spreading fast and there’s nowhere to go. They’re trapped, and it’s clear that they’ll soon be outnumbered.
And damn, ya’ll, Conchita’s still not down for the night! Poor Manu has to sucker-punch Nana AGAIN before heading back down the stairs, where he passes the Chinese couple and the vanity man who are on their way up. “They’re getting away!” he shouts as they pass, and as Manu makes it down to the foyer we see the door where they’d locked away the intern and his newbie zombies opening. They need to run away, but whoever handcuffed Mom to the stairs has lost the key, and they can’t free her in time. As Angela, Pablo, the health inspector, and Manu run up the stairs, we see the zombie trio come rushing out of the back room and immediately making a meal of her. “I’m sorry,” Manu tells her as he rushes away, which I’m sure made her feel loads better.
They encounter vanity man in the hallway and lock themselves into an open apartment. The health inspector locks himself into a bathroom, telling them that he’s been bitten and to stay away. Unfortunately, the door doesn’t hold, and the health inspector ends up ripping off half of vanity man’s face before Manu, Angela, and Pablo run away. So long, vanity man. Here’s hoping the health inspector at least left your good side intact.
Back out in the hallway now, the quartet realizes they’re running out of options. They can hear the sounds of raging lunatics all around them, and they’re unsure where to go. Angela says they need to get into the storage room, but they need the intern’s keys since he was in charge of the building. But no one can knows where he lives, and they can’t even remember his name. Finally Angela recalls it – Guillem – and they make a mad dash for the mailboxes in the building’s foyer to find his apartment number. They quickly find it, but oops – Mama’s woken up from her nap, and it does NOT look like she accepted Manu’s apology.
Fortunately she’s still handcuffed to the stairwell, so they manage to skate past her while she rages and reaches for them wildly. More zombie encounters ensue – the Chinese dad, then a random woman I don’t even recognize. There’s a sad little scene where Manu asks Pablo to help him take down random woman, and he puts the camera down to do so, and all the audience sees is her sad little feet in house shoes twitching away as they kill her. It’s a weird, tragic little visual. They run into a darkened room and struggle to find the light. As soon as they do, the light goes on and oops – Chinese mom is right there, zombied out and raging. Watching this scene makes me wonder how much fun it must have been to play one of these creatures – just going shit-wild and making as much ruckus as possible must have been a blast. Then Manu grabs a mallet and puts an end to that shit, and off they all go to open up the intern’s apartment and find his keys.
It’s important to note what’s going on here: we started out this disaster on the first floor of the building, where most of the tenants were gathered together to wait out the situation. The cop was trying to keep everyone in one place to control the chaos, but unfortunately, he failed. Conchita was still upstairs causing a ruckus, and then the little girl got loose and ran up there as well, and as the two injured men and the just-bitten intern busted out the back door it became a free-for-all, with everyone running off in all directions, and for the most part getting themselves infected. And now we have the last remaining three getting pushed higher and higher up the stairs towards the top of the building. And what can they do then? The chances that the cops outside have left any roof access unblocked is slim to none. They’re running out of time AND space to survive. And with every passing second there are more zombies coming to life and running amok. In short, it’s not looking so good for these three.
They make it to the intern’s apartment and Manu uses his death mallet to bash the door open. He WAITS OUTSIDE – Manu nooooooo!! – while Angela and Pablo make a desperate dash through the rooms to locate the keys. The TV is still on, with the intern’s dinner sitting on a tray in front of it, a small reminder of how quickly these people’s lives have gone from normal to nightmare. Angela and Pablo are beside themselves by now, barely holding it together as they trash the apartment looking for keys. They finally find a huge keychain full of them and grab them all, then dash out of the apartment only to find Manu gone. Noooooo not Manu! Angela clearly agrees with me as she starts crying and calling out his name. Unfortunately he answers her:
I have to pour one out for Manu here. He never stopped trying to help people reach some sort of safety. I know he’s just a character in a movie, but believe me when you’re watching this thing it feels like you’ve been involved in this situation for years at this point, and losing Manu is a real heartbreaker. When you lose Manu, you know you’re out of luck entirely. It truly feels now like only a matter of time until our dear TV crew is done for, too. Plus, we know how found footage films end, and no one ever survives this shit. But just like Angela and Pablo, still we hope, although I’m not sure a world without Manu is one worth living in. But I guess we gotta try.
They end up reaching to the top of the building – the penthouse – which is a suite no one has occupied for many years. We heard this earlier in the evening when one of the cops was asking who all lived in the building. Anyway, here we are at the end of the road. It’s the top apartment, and there’s nowhere left to go. They make it inside just in time, as the rush of zombies are right on their heels. They slam they door and find themselves in total darkness. We hear the screaming zombie horde and Angela’s manic wailing as Pablo tries to turn on his camera light. When he does, they find themselves surrounded by newspaper clippings and papers and files. A quick camera zoom around the room makes it clear that some sort of – dun dun DUNNN! – lab experiments have gone on up here.
There are needles and an old tape recorder up there, too, and Angela plays it back to reveal that there was some sort of Vatican project going on up here, wherein they took a possessed girl and tried to isolate an enzyme that made her possessed, or something? Then the enzyme mutated and became contagious, I think? That’s all I can gather from it. But no matter, because while they are listening to this an attic door up above them slams open, and Pablo sticks his camera up there to see if there’s any way to escape through the attic. He finds some wicked creature up there instead, that smashes his camera light and breaks it. He resorts to using his night vision to see what’s going on in the room, which unfortunately means Angela is completely in the dark.
That’s probably for the best, because what Pablo sees through his camera is pretty terrifying. I’ll spare you a shot of it here, but I did find this picture of the actress playing Angela posing with the person who played the role of the possessed girl, who it turns out has been locked up in this penthouse for years.
Imagine seeing that through a night vision camera, lumbering about and smashing things around, trying to find out who’s in her room, and you get the idea. It’s awful. Soon enough the creature finds Pablo and smashes him to death with a hammer. Now we’re down to just Angela, the only one left in the building alive. We see her in the dark, crawling towards the camera that Pablo has dropped, and in the background we can hear all the screaming and growling in the building full of zombies. Then she screams as she is pulled backwards into the darkness, presumably by the possessed creature. The end.
Rec is considered to not only be one of the best found footage films around, but one of the best zombie movies out there as well. It was so successful that it spawned three sequels, all of which I have watched. None of them live up to the original but overall they’re not bad. I may or may not recap them at some point. Alls I can say at the end of this is that if you ever watch just one found footage film, make it this one. I have my other faves for sure, but this one tops them all. It’s that rare beast that would not have been better served without the found footage conceit; it’s actually BETTER because of it, which is really unusual. For the most part a film is made in this style because of budget constraints, but Rec without the found footage angle wouldn’t be nearly as fun of a ride.