Then there’s REC, a 2007 Spanish import by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza that lulls you into a sense of security before unleashing floor after floor of undead madness in an apartment building.
The Barcelona-set story follows TV news reporter Ángela and her cameraman Pablo as they film the nocturnal goings-on at a city fire station for a puff piece on night shifts. The fairly uneventful assignment soon changes when two firefighters go investigate a disturbance in an apartment building, with Ángela and Pablo in tow. What begins as a routine call results in the team being trapped by police and military officials claiming that building is under quarantine for a contagious virus that transforms people into monstrous beings. As the building’s tenants are turned one-by-one, Ángela and Pablo must find a way to escape.
From there, the movie unfolds in real-time through the lens of Pablo’s camera, giving the movie a kind of immersive, first-person, European Cops In Hell vibe. Adding to the effect is the loss of sound when a struggle ensues and accidentally switches the mic off, leaving the viewer feeling vulnerable as they try to understand the action with one less sense.
Though the setting may appear limited, the vertical, high-rise space instead gives the film a kinetic quality and potential for tons of surprises, as the characters race up multiple stairwells and in and out of apartments, having no idea what awaits them. Usually what awaits them is the same thing that chases them up towards the penthouse and through dark hallways, a growing horde of undead fast and furious enough to compete with the re-imagined zombies in Danny Boyle’s 2002 horror masterpiece, 28 Days Later.
With its quick pacing, brutal jump scares, and unpredictable ending, REC does an admirable job of modernizing the shambling ghouls introduced in George A. Romero’s Living Dead series. While the film received an American remake in 2009 and expanded into three sequels, it's best to start with the original.
REC is available to rent on most streaming platforms.