Even though The Blair Witch Project was released almost ten years ago, we’ve yet to see many films try to emulate the low-budget, point-of-view filmmaking techniques seen in the successful horror film. Recently, however, several high-profile films have attempted to contain their action to (ostensibly) a single camera and POV perspective; two of these films were moderate Hollywood successes (Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead) and the third is a terrific and frightening little Spanish film called [Rec].
Whereas the two Hollywood films attempted to expand the scope of their action (the whole of New York City in Cloverfield and across Pennsylvania in Diary of the Dead), the directors of [Rec] make the smart move of containing the majority of the film to one setting, an apartment complex in Barcelona. Not only does this help to reduce production costs, a constant setting helps to both create familiarity and break that familiarity, greatly increasing the potential for shock and horror. Nothing elicits more terror than an aggressive element crashing in on a previously safe place.
I can’t help but compare this film to George Romero’s recent zombie POV effort, Diary of the Dead. Both concern similar outbreaks and both are depicted primarily through POV camerawork. [Rec], however, is both more entertaining and captivating and, importantly, a much scarier film. The frenetic pace and tension in this film is incredible; once the action starts, it doesn’t let up until the end credits. When discussing the use of POV in both films, the rationale for the technique in [Rec] (that a TV camera crew is following firemen through a typical night and they get involved in a mysterious outbreak) is more believable and realistic than that in Diary of the Dead (a driven film student seeks fame and glory through documenting a zombie attack). The POV in Diary feels like a gimmick, whereas it feels natural in [Rec].
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this film has already been remade in Hollywood as Quarantine. After viewing [Rec], I keep thinking that this is the film Romero should have made: a fast, grim, unrelenting zombie film. [Rec] is easily one of the most impressive and frightening horror films I’ve seen for a long time.