A lot of people don’t seem to take them into account but expectation and screening conditions are two of the most important variables that affect an audience member’s enjoyment of a film. We may try to remain impartial to internet buzz and critical reception, just as we can try to ignore the jackoff checking his iphone in the seat next to us: but these things nevertheless change the way we experience films.
Let me give this idea a bit of context:
A year or so ago, after the genre websites had thoroughly whipped themselves into a tizzy over it, I finally sat down to watch the original [REC] (2007) once it received a legitimate DVD release stateside. I was watching it with my girlfriend. We were watching on her smallish television and I prefaced the film with “I hear this is really great.” To which she replied “what’s it about?” Which caught me a little off guard, because I didn’t know.
I was quite disappointed when [REC] turned out to be “only a zombie movie.” This, the film that had been heralded as the “next big thing” belonged to a genre that had long worn out its welcome. The first film managed to be an above-average mashup of 28 Days Later and Blair Witch Project (the whole movie is “filmed” by a news crew). It had some nice scares and complex setups, but at the end of the night it was still a zombie movie.
Tonight I saw [REC] 2 during its three night stint at the Brattle theater. The experience I had with the film was the exact opposite of its predecessor, leading to one of the best nights of horror cinema I’ve had in years.
The film begins just like the last one, we are introduced to a set of characters (in this case a SWAT team escorting a VIP), they are given some tenuous reason for filming themselves (the team not only has a camera man, but individual cameras on their helmets), they are let loose in a quarantined apartment building and charged with getting to the bottom of the “infection.” I don’t want to spoil things, but the film takes a drastic departure from its “zombie movie” roots by giving a very supernatural reason for the infection visited on the tenants of the building.
The paranormal occurrences are introduced slowly but surely, building to the film’s disturbing denouement. By the end the film is so different that viewers of the first film would have never been able to guess where the series was heading.
As many critics have noted (I like to look at criticism after the fact, so nothing was spoiled for me on my awesome first viewing) the film borrows heavily from The Exorcist (1973). It’s true, but you would have to be one up-tight idiot if you can’t see the conscious love for the classics that co-directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza are infusing into their film. [REC] 2 is the spookfest too end all spookfests. The first-person perspective and cramped hallways ensure it’s probably the closest thing to a physical haunted house experience that cinema has ever pulled off.
The Brattle presentation did the film justice: pumping up the volume and letting the jump-scares and fake-outs really pop. It’s been years since I’ve felt that giddy “hide behind the couch” adrenaline rush that first captured my heart as a kid, but this film, at this screening, gave me that in spades.
The film has its faults: the “found footage” gag only goes so far, character motivations are hazy (why are the kids in the middle of the film compelled to sneak into the apartment?), and the dialogue (at least in translation) is iffy. But it works. It works wonders. It’s a sequel so good that it has me doubting my appraisal of the first film (the movie syncs up with the original at many points, making the most out of its temporal and physical proximity to the first film) and has me eager for a sequel. Although, I don’t doubt myself that thoroughly, I feel that the first film is like an extended preamble to this superior production (the budget is much higher this time around, as evidenced by the FX). The seed of a religious slant is planted in the last few moments of the original, but it took a whole other movie to get to the really groundbreaking stuff.
[REC] 2 may not be a classic, but it’s a very good film. When you combine this with the highly subjective factors of my own (lowered) expectations and the (superb) screening I attended: the movie completely worked for me. Fun and legitimately scary in ways that few films are anymore, I urge you to seek out [REC] 2.
Hopefully I didn’t raise your expectations too high.