A Cinefessions Series Review is a periodic column that sees one more writers watching and reviewing an entire film series. Cinefessions considers any film franchise that has two or more films a series, and thus available for review in this column. This is an excellent way to get a quick look at an entire collection of films in one column. Today, Branden heads into the scariest apartment building ever to review the complete [Rec] series.

[Rec] (2007, dirs. Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza)

[Rec] is one of the reasons I consider myself a found footage film fan. It’s a genuinely creepy, atmospheric, and, at times, scary horror film that begs to be watched in the dark. The film also justifies its continued filming pretty well, which is always important in a good found footage movie.

[Rec] follows the story of a news reporter who is shooting a segment called “While You’re Sleeping”, or something similar. She and her cameraman follow around a group of firefighters, trying to find something interesting and entertaining to film the night they’re with them. Finally, fortunately for the reporter, the alarm sounds, and the action picks up! They have to help a woman who is trapped in her apartment. Once they arrive, they quickly come to realize that things are not quite that simple, and they’re about to get a much more complex story than they could have bargained for.

I’ve seen [Rec] once before and loved it, and I can absolutely see why. I did forget, though, that this whole film – well, most of the film anyway – takes place in one apartment building. The way the story unfolds is intriguing as hell, and was able to keep me guessing throughout. It’s just an effective premise that is executed incredibly well. The acting is terrific, and most importantly in a found footage film, it’s naturalistic. There are not a ton of jump scares in the film, which makes what’s there work even better. The gore in the film is also fantastic, making me cringe on more than one occasion.

If you’re a found footage hater, then you should really give [Rec] a shot. Yes, it has a ton of shaky cam, but if you can get past that, there is a genuinely scary horror film here that does a fantastic job of setting up a viral infection that makes the infected zombie-like. It’s just a fantastically tense film that reminds me why I love the found footage sub-genre so much.

[Rec] 2 (2009, dirs. Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza)

Sometimes a sequel will completely change what you thought you were watching in the original, and that’s what [Rec] 2 manages to do. Looking back, though, and talking with others, I realize now that there were some points made in the original that implied what the sequel explicitly states, but I completely missed them. That said, even though [Rec] 2 delivers something different than I was expecting, because the results are virtually the same, I can live with it. Where [Rec] 2 lost me a bit was in its delivery of this information, and what it attempts to do with it.

If it sounds like I’m being vague, it’s because I am. Everyone may not agree, but I was surprised by the reveal of what this virus is, so I don’t want to spoil that surprise for someone else, which is why I don’t want to talk specifics. I can tell you, though, without fear of spoilers, that [Rec] 2 picks up right after the end of the original. In fact, it actually starts about an hour or so after the events of the first film. This time around, we’re following a SWAT team that is tasked with entering the infected building from the first film. They are going in with Dr. Owens from the Ministry of Health to try to figure out what exactly is going on. Or so that’s what they believe at least. It turns out Dr. Owens knows more than he is willing to tell them, and the infected start attacking the SWAT team and Dr. Owens minutes after they get in. All Dr. Owens will tell them is that he has to finish him mission before he’s able to leave, which leaves the SWAT members stuck in there, fighting these almost unkillable creatures.

[Rec] 2 does what any good horror sequel should do: it ramps up the scares, the death, and the gore. The jump scares are more prevalent this time out – and arguably less effective because of it – and the gore is still top notch. This time around, though, we get a closer look at these infected people, and that’s a bit of this sequel’s downfall. It’s not that I dislike where they went with the film, but rather what happens to the rest of the script. It makes the audience buy into more of a supernatural kick that, frankly, I don’t believe the film needed. The climax of the film revolves around the audience believing that there is another world that lives in the dark versus what we see in the light, and I just had a hard time going with it. Even with that said, though, the story remains pretty engaging throughout, and I genuinely wanted to know who would make it out alive, and why Dr. Owens was actually sent in there. I just wish it kept things grounded in the more realistic nature that the original film presented. I was also actually surprised to find out that this sequel takes place in the same apartment building that the original does, meaning we’re still only getting one real location the entire film. I really hope the next sequel, [Rec] 3, opens things up a bit as I feel like a third entry in the same building will surely get stale.

It’s not that [Rec] 2 is a bad film by any stretch, it’s just that it asks the audience to take more leaps than I was really willing to do. It’s still a gross, engaging, and scary film that begs to be watched in the dark, but I would have loved if the story stayed grounded in reality more than it is to add that extra bit of scare, and to eliminate some of the goofier script moments later on. Still, it’s definitely worth a viewing.

[Rec] 3: Genesis (2012, dir. Paco Plaza)

[Rec] and [Rec] 2 were about as traditional as found footage films get, and [Rec] 3: Genesis starts out in the same vain. This time, though, the camera is being held by a young man who is filming his cousin’s wedding. His uncle, a vet, was bitten by a dog that, as he says, he thought was dead, and has his hands bandaged up. This, of course, will be the catalyst for the rest of the film. About fifteen minutes in things take a drastic shift as the frightened groom destroys the only remaining camera, and the [Rec] series leaves its found footage roots behind for a traditional narrative film, filled with interesting camera angles, professional lighting, and solid editing. The problem is, though, that is also leaves behind what made the first two [Rec] films work so well: the scares and the sincerity of the players.

[Rec] 3: Genesis takes place, I’m guessing, during the events of the second film because at one point we see a television screen and a news report is on showing us the sealed off apartment building from the first two films. It doesn’t explicitly state its time frame, but I have to guess that the wedding ceremony is on that same day as the events of the first two films, and then our second and third acts are later that evening, and into the next morning. I only mention this to try and keep some semblance of a timeline for this series.

Genesis, as I mentioned, does have some really strong cinematography. I actually liked that the director (who directed this film solo where he directed the first two with a partner) decides to do something different here, and the transition from found footage film to a traditionally shot one was wonderfully shocking to me. I had literally no idea that was where this one would go, and I loved the idea of that. It lets the director showcase that he can, in fact, find some beautiful shots. That said, it almost felt, at times, like he was compensating for the lack of specific framing in the first two because some shots are only there to look pretty instead of adding any sort of tension or depth to the scene. The other big problem with Genesis is that I just did not like these characters. They were poorly written, two-dimensional, and, frankly, just annoying to watch. I have never heard any two people say “my love” more in my life than in this film, and it just came off as forced.

Weak characters is one thing, but what killed this for me almost entirely was the tone. It was as if they couldn’t figure out if they were filming a satire in the vain of Shaun of the Dead, or if they wanted something more dramatic and serious. That makes for some awkward shifts from scene to scene in mood, and it really hurts anything else that may have been positive about [Rec] 3. If the director would have decided which way to go with it, this could have been a really strong satire, but there wasn’t enough humor to make it work (and not enough genuine scares or moments of tension to make the opposite work either).

Though [Rec] 3: Genesis was able to surprise me with its shift from found footage to traditional cinematography, and some of the shots looked quite nice, wanting our main characters to be offed is never a positive thing in a film like this, and the lack of solid direction in terms of the overall goal for the film really hurt a sequel that had a great idea (of following a wedding party during this outbreak). So [Rec] 3: Genesis is a swing and a miss for me.

[Rec] 4: Apocalypse (2014, dir. Jaume Balagueró)

Calling this a “found footage series” is totally incorrect because half of the movies are shot traditionally, including [Rec] 4: Apocalypse. I honestly had no idea that the series turned in this direction, and though the results were mostly negative for [Rec] 3, [Rec] 4 rights the ship, and delivers a solid action/horror hybrid. Unfortunately, though, because we lose the found footage, it starts to feel a lot more generic than the first two outings.

[Rec] 4 starts out right after the events of the first three movies, and another SWAT team heads into our apartment building we’ve all come to know and love. While there, they find a survivor – the news reporter from the first two films, Angela – and they attempt to rescue her. Then, the film jumps a little ahead (not sure if it’s hours or days, but it isn’t terribly far ahead), and Angela and two of her rescuers – Guzman and Lucas – wake up on a tanker in the middle of the ocean, with little memory of how they got there. There are doctors on board with a huge, armed security team protecting them, and they determine that all three of them are free of the virus, but won’t give them much other information, keeping things as secretive as possible. Turns out that they also have the virus on the ship with them, and they’re trying to find a retrovirus to stop it from spreading. I’ll give you one guess as to what happens next.

Yes, the virus they have on board gets out, and all hell breaks loose on the ship. So, instead of having the one building set from the first two, we now get one boat to explore, and really, that was enough to keep things interesting. I would argue that they almost abandon some of the ideas that are presented in the second film, which is an odd choice, and one I thought I would like more, but it just lends itself more to the “this is a generic virus outbreak film” feel of this movie. What I love about it, though, is that – unlike [Rec] 3, which did happen according to this film, and all the survivors are on board this ship as well, but I won’t say who those are to avoid spoilers – the characters here are genuinely likable! The best character in this one, aside from Angela, who we know from the previous films, has to be Nic. Nic is the ship’s general IT guy, and is a huge fan of Angela’s news reports. He brings a good amount of humor to his role, and he always come off as a genuinely kind-hearted guy, which I love to see.

The other positive aspect of this one is that it is a notably tense film, and the whole second half, after the outbreak on the ship occurs, is basically one non-stop action sequence after another, as everyone is trying to survive in extremely tight quarters. There is some good gore again, and Jaume Balaguero shows that he has a much better grasp of the tone of this series than his co-directing partner that helmed the third film as everyone is playing this as legitimately as possible, which really helps ratchet up the tension. The script is also a lot tighter this time out, which always helps.

[Rec] 4: Apocalypse is a good film, it just suffers the fate of a lot of other films in this category: it’s been done before, and it feels generic. The only reason I liked this one as much as I did is because it is tied in with the characters that I’ve been following for three films now, so I was always excited to see what the outcome would be. Balaguero does a great job with the direction here, and it leaves me wondering “what could have been” if he did the third film instead of his partner. Either way, though, the [Rec] is an interesting one that is definitely worthy of at least one viewing. The first film just sets the bar so high that it turned out impossible to reach those heights again with any of the sequels. As for this one specifically, don’t watch it without seeing the rest, but if you’ve liked what you saw in the first two films, [Rec] 4 is a definite upgrade from the third film, and therefore comes recommended.

The CSR Awards
(The Cinefessions’ Series Review Awards)

Best Picture: [Rec]

Worst Picture: [Rec] 3: Genesis

Favorite Scene/Moment in Series: [Rec]
The ending of this film is really effective. It’s creepy because of the characters involved, it’s jarring because of the found footage aspect, and it just does a great job of delivering on that last scare.

Best Actor: Ismael Fritschi as Nick ([Rec] 4: Apocalypse)

Best Actress: Manuela Velasco as Ángela ([Rec])

The average film rating for the [Rec] series is 2.63 stars.