Comparable to H.P. Lovecraft at his very best and infused with some of the most devastating jump scares known to cinema, [Rec] is a relentless and exhausting film that never ceases to scare and excite.
TV reporter Angela Vidal, fantastically played by the effervescent Manuela Velasco, is assigned to do a story about a fire house for a local TV show. While taping the show, the firemen receive a call about an elderly woman trapped in her apartment, and the TV crew tags along on the call. At the building they are joined by the police. When they try to talk to the old woman, who, by the way, is wearing only a nightgown and is covered in blood, she attacks and bites one of the policemen. From there, everything goes to Hell very quickly.
Angela and the other firemen carry the injured policeman down the stairs only to find that the health department has sealed the building; no one comes in, no one gets out. Hysteria ensues. Vague explanations and warnings are doled out via megaphones by the inspectors outside, sirens blare and flashing lights blind, everyone is shouting, the camera is shaking and being shoved by a nervous officer, and, to make matters worse, a fireman falls down the circular stairwell from at least three stories up and lands with a crash and accompanying screams, one of the many perfectly timed and executed scares in the film.
This first attack occurs about thirteen minutes into the film, after we've watched Angela and the firemen hanging out, eating dinner, playing basketball. We've gotten to know them a bit and seen them having fun, so we can genuinely care for their safety. Later, after the old woman is killed, the injured men stabilized as best as possible, and all the exits verified to be sealed, another period of calm takes place, where Angela interviews several of the tenants, including a Chinese couple, a sick seven-year-old, and a suave but somewhat prejudice older man. These people are now made characters rather than glorified extras, allowing us to care about them.
A fireman has a toolbox containing an axe and a mallet, and one policeman has one pistol. That is all the weaponry used in the entire film. Everyone trapped in this building is as vulnerable as possible. The only things with which they can defend themselves are their hands, minds, and whatever small trinket that happens to be lying around. They are sealed in like lab rats, entirely cut off from the outside world save for one health inspector who comes in to take blood samples. There is no cavalry coming to rescue them. They are utterly alone.
Once the health inspector enters the building, he first tends to the injured officer and fireman. While giving them some sort of injection, they jump back to life and attack the inspector and the medical intern helping him. Later we learn that it's the sick girl and her dog who first spawned this sickness, and she violently attacks her mother, biting her eye right out of its socket! The violent, frenzied delirium resumes, and does not cease.
I must admit that some of the scares feel a tad gratuitous. The lights will go out and then come right back on just before the scare. Ever so briefly I feel that I'm being picked on by a bully who keeps yelling "boo" loudly next to my ear, only instead of being annoyed I'm terrified. But the scares are so well timed and well set up that they keep scaring me, no matter how many times I'm hit with it. It keeps the fright and insanity going; the hairs on the back of my neck are given no time to relax and fall limp.
Angela and Pablo the cameraman are forced to escape into the penthouse of the building, which is nothing short of a meticulously-decorated Lovecraftian mad scientist's lab of horrors. Dozens of newspaper clippings are hung on the walls relating to the possession and exorcism of a Portuguese girl, among many other disturbing readings, tools and equipment. There's even a tape recording of a scientist describing an experiment. All very strange, confusing and eerie.
The light atop the camera, which has been used marvelously throughout the film as a plot device, finally goes out, and Pablo has to switch to night vision. He can see, but only through the camera; Angela can see nothing. Out of a dark recess within this penthouse walks some tall monstrosity that may have been a human at one point, but now only barely resembles a human. It lumbers toward Pablo and Angela, wielding a hammer.
I'd tell you what happens next, but it'd spoil the experience for you, if you'd even believe me. One of the best examples of the shaky-cam, or acknowledgement-of-camera, genre, [Rec] is an all-out blast, a thrill ride of terrifying proportions. Watch it alone, in the pitch dark if you dare, but you may wanna notify your neighbors that this movie will be the reason for your screams.