Review: Rec 2

I was very disappointed with Rec 2.

(Spoilers ahoy.)

The previous film was excellent, breathing some new life into the zombie genre (not by doing anything exceptionally innovative, but by combining zombies with Blair Witch-style camera footage and throwing in an interesting conspiracy theory involving the Catholic Church). The ending was just ambiguous enough to still be interesting without seeming pretentious. The idea was, there was an outbreak of this zombie plague deal, and the Catholic Church had been tracking its movement since the 17th Century or something. They were under the impression that it was demonic and that the victims were possessed. In the present day, immediately prior to the film, they sent a priest to hole up in this apartment building in Barcelona where he could study a girl that had been infected over a long period.

I know–why an apartment and not a secluded laboratory somewhere, with rigorous infectious disease containment protocols and a healthy supply of automatic weaponry? But if you’re willing to suspend disbelief regarding the whole zombie thing, you should be able to accept some improbable planning decisions, especially from the Catholic Church.

Anyway, naturally something went wrong, the virus became highly contagious and started spreading through the building, and that’s the point that the movie begins.

In Rec 2, they eliminate all of the ambiguity. It’s a demonic thing, Satan is behind it all, etc. etc. It doesn’t really follow naturally from the evidence presented in the first film. It’s like the filmmakers decided to take a victory lap after the first movie, and they take two steps before face-planting in a pile of Exorcist: The Beginning.

Rec 2 begins just moments after the first film ends, so the aftermath of part one is visible in some scenes of part two (a detail which I appreciated). It follows a paramilitary team (it’s not clear if they’re with the city police, or if they’re military, or what) that’s sent in to help contain the plague victims. They’re lead by a suspicious and ghoul-faced doctor who turns out to be a priest (Spain apparently not believing in thorough background checks of new employees– I hear the whole country is controlled by Opus Dei). Inevitably, members of the team are killed off one by one, returning later as crazed zombie-demon things. Eventually it’s just the doctor and two of the S.W.A.T. guys, and there’s a lot of screaming and cursing and the requisite cryptic half-explanations from the priest (on the right in this image), who I swear looks like an undead version of Perry Cox. There’s some very Exorcist-ish (minus the drama, quality acting, and solid script) confrontations between the priest and the demon, who taunts him through the mouths of possessed people. The ending, which I won’t bother spoiling (although you’ll wish I had when you see it), was intensely anti-climactic, and put the last nail in the coffin of the still-kicking plot (it’s a zombie movie–see what I did there?).

Rec 2 really becomes an exorcise (ho-ho!) in predictable, uninspired film-making. By trying to be novel (which is not, I must reiterate, necessary to be good), they actually ended up with a film that felt depressingly derivative. Instead of being flush with intelligent references to other films in the genre, the way the first movie was, Rec 2 just became a hodgepodge of half-formed ideas based on the inherently silly and ultimately pointless combination of Da Devil and biological contagion (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson aptly demonstrated the potential for inadvertent humor when “evil” is assimilated to “science”). The original Rec made it seem (in my opinion, at least) as though the Church was being its normal stupid self, that the plague was actually just a “normal” zombie virus and that the devil had nothing to do with it, but outdated Church superstition had lead to the outbreak in Barcelona (this would have been a pretty effective commentary on the Church’s stubborn conservatism). But I feel like they ran out of creativity in between the two films, and just decided to go the demon route so that the otherwise familiar zombie motif would seem vaguely innovative. Instead it was stupid, contrived, and totally unbelievable. The worst part is that the female protagonist of the first film, believed dead, shows up toward the end of Rec 2 in a totally ridiculous role that really ruins the mood of the movie.

This isn’t to say that there was nothing redeeming about Rec 2. It had some scary moments, and they revisit the horrible skinny hammer zombie woman from the infamous final ten minutes of Rec in a fairly satisfying way (she’s still there, and she’s more horrible than before). But overall, it got way ahead of itself. The first film was very well received, which probably encouraged the filmmakers to get a little lazy with the sequel (cynical, yes, but the proof is in the pudding). I’d give the film a solid 75%. It’s very much a C student, languishing in the shadow of its A+ older brother. A little more effort would have gone a long way, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t there.

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