Not that it’s any great distinction, but the 2007 Spanish neo-zombie movie [REC] remains the best of the Blair Witch knockoffs—an intense, self-contained, admirably economical horror film that uses the same first-person, faux-doc camera technique to more terrifyingly explicit ends. (In 2008, it was remade in the U.S. as Quarantine, to substantially less acclaim.) Confining the action to a single location—an apartment building increasingly overwhelmed by infected humans turned rabid and feral—directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza (who also co-scripted, with Luis Berdejo) build tension in tight quarters and make powerful use of spare lighting effects and offscreen space. And yet, also like Blair Witch, the film never suggests a sequel: Without giving too much away, it ends appearing to have settled all its business.
But rather than completely reconceptualizing the original, as Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 did to mystifying effect, [REC] 2 smartly picks up right where the first one left off, and takes little time to reestablish momentum. With the building still under quarantine, a SWAT team (all equipped with helmet-cams, à la Aliens) enters the infected zone with Jonathan Mellor, a Ministry Of Health agent. Their task is to find a vial of blood extracted from the girl first afflicted with the illness, so an antidote can be created. But the implications of their mission go beyond mere disease control, taking on a religious component that would be laughable if the movie let up for half a second.
Balagueró and Plaza are genre thieves of the first order: On top of the Blair Witch vérité conceit and Aliens helmet-cam, [REC] 2 lifts mythology whole-cloth from The Exorcist, only with an army of Linda Blairs attacking full-bore. Add to that the Doom-like effect of beasties appearing down hallways illuminated by a single source, and [REC] 2 is a Frankenstein’s monster of a zombie movie, with nary an original idea in its patchwork of borrowed ones. But what Balagueró and Plaza lose in novelty, they partially gain back by sheer relentlessness: The film is a slab of raw meat for horror addicts, impeccably crafted mayhem that clocks in at under 90 minutes. Just don’t give it too much thought.