In Rec 2, the makers introduced a new and unique concept to what was once a zombie movie series. Rec 2 sets out to explain the infection as, instead a rabies-like disease (which is typical of the zombie genre), but as the manifestation of a demon possession. Personally, I liked how the makers of Rec 2 combined these two popular horror elements and created something new.
One of the reasons why infection-based zombie movies are quite popular nowadays is telling of one of the things our society fears – disease. As opposed to the earlier zombie movies, which make either magic or a nuclear spill as the origin of their zombies, disease is a more modern fear. Fear of infection has replaced magic and nuclear radiation as contemporary societal fears. Magic or the supernatural are not as scary because of the power of science of demystify the unknown. Nuclear spills, wars, and fallouts are not as pressing as they were around of the time of the Cold War (though we may see more horror movies that create some sort of allegory for this with all the nuclear testing going on), so it’s not surprising that it has faded from media recently. The nature of current popular zombies reflects the kind of world we have now where there is great ease of travel across town, cities, and countries and a virus can infect a lot of people very quickly, like the epidemic scares we’ve had over the past two decades. Disease, although understood to a certain extent through science, is still pretty hard to deal with and can cost people a lot of suffering or their life. Scientists know quite a bit about the various disease and their strains out there and can find vaccinations and cures given time and money, but because bacteria, virii, and other disease-causing organisms are just that, organisms, they can also adapt and continue to infect people. Because we, as the non-scientist populace, know a certain amount about diseases to know the extent of damage they can cause, but not enough to be able to directly combat the microorganisms themselves, the concept of infection (especially by a very deadly strain) can be terrifying.
This brings me to the second important aspect of these zombies – they are demon-possessed monstrous shells of their previous selves. I found the attempt to explain possession in Rec through science very fascinating. The action of the Vatican in this movie if particularly interesting. Instead of relying on traditional exorcisms to purge the original girl of the demon, they study her and find a cure. The fact that they did this and how they carried it out didn’t seem to be in character for how I view the Vatican. Either way, their attempt to learn more of the scientific basis of possession shows that they are trying to regain control of a situation that never goes the exorcist’s way (at least in other movie portrayals). The Church took on a very scientific attitude in this movie (instead of sticking to antiquated ways of dealing with issues), and it was refreshing.
Things that exist beyond our conceptual schemas can be terrifying because we don’t know what to expect from them and how to deal with. Trying to explain something totally beyond understanding is an attempt to bring it under control and make it less frightening; it’s akin to trying to fit it in to our current conceptual schema or developing a new one that accommodates this new information. Demons, spirits, possessions are still very scary nowadays because don’t understand much about them and have pretty much no defense against any malevolent action from these kinds of entities. There is this apparent helplessness against things not understood. Even when a fully-armed SWAT team confronts the possessed zombies, they get overwhelmed, partly because they aren’t told what to expect before coming in.
One thing zombie and possession movies have in common is their ending. Quite a few horror films get resolved by killing the monster and the whole adventure ending, so the characters, one way or another, can move on. Zombie and possession movies have a generally more pessimistic outcome. Though the movie ends with some of the characters surviving, the audience always gets the feeling that it’s not the end, and never will be. Zombies are always just around the corner and malevolent spirits/demons are either temporarily exorcised or are merely pretending to be normal humans so they can cause more havoc later on. And that’s the things about zombies (in terms of diseases at least) and spiritual aspect of the supernatural, we’ll never fully understand them, control them, or beat them, so it’s no big surprise that these things scare us.