As a horror enthusiast, one of my greatest passions (or guilty pleasures, depending) is the zombie movie. Many people say that it’s overused and boring and that there has been no fresh material since Romero, if that. Sometimes I’m inclined to agree. But sometimes a movie crops up that’s true to the spirit of the zombie genre without sacrificing any of the basic, core rules. It’s familiar, you know what’s going to happen and how, but it still somehow makes your toes curl. It’s a movie that turns the already familiar ride into something fun and exciting. That’s what REC was for me.
I actually saw Quarantine first and, while I was generally a bit ambivalent about the concept, watching REC has actually made me appreciate it better. I have a marked fondness for the found film (sub?)genre despite the fact that I only like a very small percentage of them, so for me it was less a question of taking pleasure in the tediously predictable than it was an appreciation for it hitting all the right notes at the right times.
As I already mentioned, zombie movies have a reputation for being a bit redundant. As a result, even its underlying themes have been over-analyzed to hell and back. When speaking the language of monster metaphors, it’s clear enough that zombies represent our fear of the mundane or of becoming part of the mindless masses (see: Dawn of the Dead, consumer capitalism.) To veer more towards the realm of repression, zombies can and have been used to talk about the effects of uninhibited human “hunger” (impulse urges will lead to the collapse of society!), and are also, among many other examples, used to fuel less socially acceptable survivalist fantasies. Interestingly enough, the latter sort of story tends to bring with it strong female characters. I guess it’s hard to keep repressing female creativity when society is stuck living in the ruins of its former glory. But boy do some stories still try (looking at you, Walking Dead.)
Moralistic issues are also a staple of the zombie genre: at what point do we stop being human, what is the right way to balance survival and humanity, is survival the most potent justification for our actions, and on and on. Dead Girl took place outside the typical apocalypse scenario, providing credence to its status as a movie made horrible by the conscious actions of its human characters as opposed to any true scare brought about by the existence of zombies. Along those lines, we have movies like The Zombie Diaries that pits survival against morality and argues all the usual things you would expect from a zombie movie re: organized social structures, “monsters”, and matters of survival vs. morality.
These things just highlight the great thing about REC, which is: by forcing its characters into a deadly, claustrophobic situation it pushes past the need to question itself and instead focuses on the nuances of the narrative. It’s a story about survival, without the requisite need to step back and look at society and wonder. There’s simply no time for any of that in REC and I, for one, appreciate it.