[REC]: Blair Witch the Barcelona Way

Posted by Ilse Marie Bussing on April 13, 2009 in Blog tagged with

   [REC] is a recent Spanish horror film (2007) directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza which does not hide the fact that it follows in the tradition of The Blair Witch Project (1999); like its predecessor, [REC] is presented as a documentary or "realistic" rendering of events; in both films, it soon becomes clear that the supernatural and terrorific are able to invade everyday life, unannounced and uninvited. Instead of three filmmakers in some desolate woods, this Spanish film presents a team of TV reporters as they follow a squad of firemen into a building of flats in downtown Barcelona.

   At the beginning of the film, we hear the female presenter joking about the boring life of firemen and their uneventful night duty, but upon following them in their first emergency call, we soon realize that the resulting documentary will be anything but boring. Once inside, the crew encounters a demented tenant who bites one of the men, thus infecting him with a bizarre disease that turns him into something like herself: a ravenous and insane, zombie-like murderer. Furthermore, the government has received information that the inhabitants of the building might be infected with an unknown and deadly virus, and a SWAT teams promptly cordons off the building, trapping tenants, firemen, reporters and infected monsters alike. Like The Blair Witch Project, [REC] is tremendously successful because as viewers we interpret a documentary as the rendering of "real" events, and when the horrific and monstrous invade this reality, we feel that the safe boundary between real and imaginary has vanished and we are left unguarded.

   There is another aspect about [REC] which I found to be particularly effective, and that was the handling of space in hallways and staircases. As I am currently working on this topic, I naturally focused on this aspect vs. another one in the film. As in other horror stories, both in filmic and written texts, liminal areas such as hallways and staircases are crucial in the narrative tension that fluctuates during the progression of a Gothic story or plot. In both film and text, tension usually increases as characters traverse these areas of a house/building, something which seems to derive from the phenomenology of the space itself. Hallways and staircases and passages in general are limited spaces that generate feelings of claustrophobia, and expectancy, but they also produce a sense of a forward thrust which offers characters a single option–to keep moving forward, regardless of, or maybe because of a growing sense of fear. In [REC] most of the action takes place in staircases and hallways, and the reaction of the characters is always the same, to keep moving, and to keep recording, in other words, to keep experiencing and bearing witness to something, regardless of its awful nature and of the outcome.

   For those of you interested in watching the movie, it is available at any Blockbuster’s, in Spanish but with English subtitles. Also, for those of you who liked The Blair Witch Project, it would be interesting to see if you find it as effective/frightening or if it is not as convincing to you…

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