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Fleshing Out a Horror Hit

MOVIE REVIEW
[REC] 2 (2009)

4
Magnet Releasing

The best horror sequels never know when to pull back — It’s their greatest trait. James Cameron showed genre filmmakers how to increase the quality with 2005’s “Aliens,” technically science fiction but still embraced by lovers of extreme tension and violence. In 1986, Rob Zombie deleted the black comedy from his previous film, “House of 1,000 Corpses,” for its nihilistic, superior follow-up, “The Devil’s Rejects.” And then there was “28 Weeks Later,” a descending roller coaster that traded its predecessor’s dependence on character exposition for one dynamite set piece after another. The formula is tried and true; of course, the film itself needs to actually be good. There’s no wonder why the increasingly-gorier “Friday the 13th” sequels don’t deserve to be in the same sentence as the aforementioned pictures.

“[REC] 2,” Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s supercharged continuation of 2007’s already-unrelenting cinéma vérité success, carries on the exemplary part-two tradition. Its characters’ names are inconsequential; in what ferocious, highly-stylized way each will be decimated by his or her infected neighbors is the film’s preoccupation. Though, this adrenaline rush’s blatant feeding of the horror-loving beast is quite endearing. As well as beneficiary, since the sensory uppercut fired by “[REC]” is slightly lowered to a powerful jab here, the downside of back-ending a film as unexpected and devastating as Messrs. Balagueró and Plaza’s 2007 gem.

In the ’07 film, perky broadcast journalist Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman follow firemen into a Barcelona apartment building, where a sudden outbreak — captured entirely on camera — of rabid flesh-eaters traps them under a military quarantine. All of the sadistic fun is captured on film by Angela’s co-worker. “[REC] 2” begins mere minutes after the first story’s last shot. A crew of SWAT members tag along with a priest-in-disguise to find an antidote within the building; at the same time, three derelict teenagers sneak into the building out of tragic curiosity. Both doomed groups are, naturally, armed with cameras; the SWAT guys, specifically, have helmet-cams with each member’s name labeled on screen, a nifty wink toward Mr. Cameron’s “Aliens.”

The film’s Spanish-born co-directors acknowledge that the winning conceit of “[REC]” — to stage a speeding zombie film as a first-person nightmare — was a one-shot deal. Repeating that approach would leave the sequel feeling too familiar, a tired novelty. Thus, the supernatural tweaks of “[REC] 2,” which pay homage to “The Exorcist” and (presumably) indirectly borrow from the “Final Frame” video-game series. Which lends extra macabre to the film that wasn’t felt in the first. Even with fresh demons at play, though, “[REC] 2” isn’t particularly scary. The emotional paralysis administered during its predecessor’s final 20 minutes is never matched here, a byproduct of pushing action over suspense.

Having a female ghoul bounce around a hallway like a Pong ball, after a lit firecracker is jammed into her mouth, is the film’s definition of horror — and, really, what could be better? What “[REC] 2” loses in the way of scares it more than makes up for with pure entertainment. Messrs. Balagueró and Plaza have a wonderful command over the underlying story, both expanding upon the smallest of the first film’s details (a father barred from helping his family, the building’s concealed tailor’s workshop) and creating a whole new mythology that should bleed well into the inevitable third entry. Here’s one special case where a second horror sequel would be welcomed with blood-soaked arms.

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