Sunday, February 21, 2016

I finally saw: [REC]

In the fall of 2008 I saw and loved Quarantine, which made 2008 kind of a watershed year in terms of imaginative new ways to use found footage. That's because Cloverfield kicked off 2008. That movie blew my mind enough that I saw it twice in the theater and ended up ranking it in my top ten for the year.

Of course, both of those films were indebted to the Spanish horror film [REC] from 2007 -- one minorly, one majorly in the sense that it was actually a remake of [REC].

As sometimes happens, though, I never circled back to watch [REC], perhaps because I worried that by having seen its remake, Quarantine, I didn't expect much about it to surprise me. So even though I figured it was probably the superior film, I didn't make the time for it until last night.

Even last night, though, I carried in the same concerns. It's that worry you get about feeling like you cannot properly assess the quality of something whose tricks you have already seen copied ad infinitum. We live in an era in which the found footage horror has gotten pretty devalued, and even though I have been pleasantly surprised by more recent entries than I have disliked, it's still a genre with a lot of baggage. Even one of the granddaddies of that genre felt like it might not offer anything fresh, through no fault of its own.

But [REC] is only just over 75 minutes long, so committing to finally seeing it was ultimately a pretty easy decision.

And I'm certainly glad I did.

Although it's true that I was not surprised by any of the developments in the movie, Quarantine having copied those developments pretty much exactly (even down to using most of the same shots), I was glad to see that I was able to let my critical mind go free, and put myself in the shoes of audiences who saw this for the first time nine years ago. At the time, it had been eight years since The Blair Witch Project put found footage on the map, and the genre had yet to be used in a truly interesting way since then. It was easy for me to imagine last night the thrill of seeing something like [REC] roll off the screen at me, even if I wasn't experiencing those thrills with quite the same sense of freshness as those audiences did.

The trouble was how to provide this movie a star rating.

The experience I had watching it was probably a four. I can't deny that knowing how things were going to turn out dissipated some of the shock scares that the movie relies on. But in this case I felt like I had to award it an extra half star for the sheer ingenuity it demonstrated, not to mention its impact on future movies in the same genre. I have no doubt that the 2007 version of me would have given either 4.5 stars, or the five stars I gave Cloverfield.

But here's something interesting. As I check Letterboxd to ensure that I did give Cloverfield five stars, I see that I didn't. I see that I didn't even give if 4.5 stars. I see that I gave Cloverfield "only" four stars. Four stars to a film I saw twice in the theater.

Now of course, that was not a 2008 star rating. That was a retroactive star rating assigned sometime in 2012, when I first got started on Letterboxd. This provides an interesting window into how much my idea of how to provide star ratings has changed in just four years. It seems inconceivable to me that a film that I ranked in my top ten for a year could have gotten less than 4.5 stars from me. Perhaps in 2012 I was undergoing a slight lull in my appreciation of Cloverfield. As a matter of fact, looking back now, I saw Cloverfield for the third time in May of 2011, within a year of when I would have been providing that star rating. And I do remember being slightly less enthralled with it.

Well, it's definitely a different me now. Chalk up yet another 4.5-star review on Letterboxd. I'm hopeless.

But at least this means I'm seeing a bunch of good movies these days. And making up for the fact that I should have seen some of them long ago.


Wendell Ottley said...

I've only seen Quarantine and never bothered with this for the same reason it took you so long to see it. Glad to hear it was worth it. Maybe I will check it out.

Derek Armstrong said...

The running time is short enough (75 minutes) that I think it's well worth the gamble. I suppose if you don't ever watch remakes you are missing a substantial part of the cinematic landscape, right?