Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

Archive for May, 2015

WhiskeyHorror: The REC Quartet

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

This week my whiskeyhorror companion Katrina had a cold so she drank tea with honey and whiskey and I drank a gin and tonic, so I mean, stuff was all weirded up.

Our respective partners went to see a Shakespeare play that night, being more inclined to historical costumes than blood-smeared tank tops. Before they left I said, “Well we are watching the modern equivalent of a Shakespeare play: the fourth installment in a Spanish science fantasy found footage zombie franchise.” (I stand by it. Billy the Bard wrote what the people like.) Anyway, there are a million spoilers ahead, etc.

I haven’t reviewed the earlier installments, as I figured I’d cover them as a whole, but we watched them over the course of months, so this may be a little sketchy in parts. The basic setup will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Quarantine (an English-language remake of the first REC film): a reporter named Angela and her cameraman are doing a fluff piece on a local fire crew, they go along on an emergency call, and get trapped in a building full of bloodthirsty zombified Spaniards. While the American version places the blame on a doomsday cult and a mutated virus, the Spanish franchise is infinitely weirder, and the ultimate source of the disease is revealed to be a girl who was possessed and studied by Vatican scientists who hoped to come up with a vaccine against the devil, which, I mean, yeah: points for audacity. Our brave reporter is the Final Girl, ultimately trapped up in the penthouse apartment of the dead Vatican scientist, where the creepily emaciated and hammer-wielding possessed Patient Zero is zombie-ing around. Angela tries to hide. She fails.

REC 2 overlaps the first film slightly as a scientist-exorcist is sent into the building to get a blood sample from Patient Zero so they can continue work on a vaccine. There are some nice elaborations to the mythos, though they don’t make much sense continuity-wise, as they didn’t seem to apply to the first movie, but whatevs: they’re cool. The main new thing is that, in the dark, the world literally changes: monsters that are invisible/immaterial in the light appear when looked at through a night-vision camera; there are bottomless pools of water and doors that only exist in the darkness. The demon-possession stuff is made more explicit here, too. The big final reveal is that the reporter, Angela, is the new host of the demon (which slithered into her mouth in the form of a big-ass wormlike parasite), and is trying to muderscam her way out of the building to further spread the infection. We end with her escape.

REC 3: Genesis is then a big case of dramaticus interruptus (pretty sure that’s genuine Latin) as we shift casts and locales entirely, to a wedding in Barcelona where the demon virus spreads, on the same day as the events of the first two films. (The continuity is actually solid: we knew earlier that a dog in the original apartment building was taken to the vet because it was mysteriously sick; a guest at the wedding was bitten by a dog, and is the first to turn.) Zombies attacking a big wedding is fun stuff, with lots of great set pieces, and there are some nice interpersonal issues to be worked out as people are devoured and the authorities seal off the area. The demonic stuff is even more pronounced, as people take refuge in a church the possessed can’t enter because of holiness, and it’s also revealed that the zombies are basically a hive mind controlled directly by the demon/worm/whatever. We get a woman who tears the train off her wedding dress so she can run better and show off her legs as she attacks monsters with a chain saw, and a guy who wears antique bits of armor he found in the building, and a predictable but nice “I’d rather die with you as a zombie, my love, than live alone without you” ending. Honestly, it might be my favorite of the films, even though they only intermittently use found footage (wedding videographer, CCTV) and mostly just go with a standard cinematic style of film. I thought that was a clever choice to differentiate the “parallel sequel” from the other installments, but…

REC 4: Apocalypse has almost no found footage as all, which is fine. It’s fine. I mean, if the aforementioned Shakespeare got halfway through his sonnet cycle and then was like “Damn, sonnets have too many restrictions, I’m gonna write some free verse,” that would also be fine, totally fine, horribly disappointing and a failure of craft, but fine. We do get back with Angela and a couple of survivors from the rescue operation that saved her, and they are on a quarantine ship at sea, along with one survivor from the wedding, and a bunch of scientists, and many guys with guns, and a really nerdy radio technician/hacker who has an adorable crush on Angela, and a bunch of infected monkeys. The priest/scientists are still working on a vaccine though it’s a bit less “DEMONS THEY’RE DEMONS” this time, and the “strange things happen in the dark” stuff is entirely eschewed, and in general they try to make it more scientific, which is a shame, because I prefer the weird. Somebody takes advantage of a power failure to release some of the infected monkeys from captivity and let them run loose on the ship – zombie demon plague monkeys are scary – and naturally we are supposed to assume that parasite-possessed Angela is responsible. As people who’ve seen more than one horror movie, we knew, obviously, that Angela couldn’t possibly be responsible. The parasite jumped ship (ha ha, nautical humor, I am the worst) to a new host at some point. Once again we got some nice contained nightmare stuff, and some good character moments, and a woman wielding an outboard motor instead of a chainsaw, but to similar effect. Everybody makes plans to save themselves and almost all the plans horribly fail. It’s great. It’s the last installment in the series, and the ending is not quite the downer I was expecting. Not mind-blowing, but it’s a satisfying conclusion, and I’m glad to have watched the series.

WhiskeyHorror: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

We drank perfect manhattans with bourbon and sazeracs with rye, and watched Farsi-language vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

I enjoyed this one a lot. At first I thought it was going to be a gloomy, stately, minimalist affair – the long shots of ruined buildings, the fact that it’s shot in black and white – but there is a ton of quirky humor in this film. (When you have a vampire woman skateboarding down the street of a desert town wearing a hijab – the filmmakers are having fun.) I loved the vampire’s preferred method of stalking, mirroring the movements of her intended victims, matching her pace to theirs – it was creepy, and funny, and maybe also suggested an attempt to better mimic humans.

The villain in the first third of the film is ridiculously over-the-top, a complete caricature of a sleazeball drug dealer and loan shark and pimp – he has neck and face tattoos and smacks around a prostitute and has fish tanks and animal heads and blankets with pictures of tigers on them in his apartment – but I stopped rolling my eyes after a while and just rolled with it instead. He’s supposed to be irredeemably awful; that’s why it’s fun to see him get eaten… and it makes some of the vampires later (and less morally defensible) attacks more disturbing by contrast.

The film *is* minimalist in a lot of ways. The James-Dean-esque male lead and the vampire fall in love without a lot of talk, and the most erotic scene they share involves him piercing her ears. We don’t get much in the way of backstory for the vampire (or anyone, but especially her), and there are a lot of moments when affectless characters gaze affectlessly into the distance… but it works, especially when there’s a very expressive cat sitting between them, calling attention to their blankness in an amusing way.

There’s also a whole lot of effective acting, too, with gazes and body language over words. I’d argue that the climactic moment of the film comes late, when the hero paces back and forth on the side of the road, struggling with a moral choice, and then making a decision – his entire struggle takes place silently, with no discussion or verbal agonizing before or after; it’s all in the way he moves.

The movie was filmed in Kern Country CA, not in the Middle East, but that area has a lot of empty places and dilapidated things and also palm trees anyway, so it works well as the setting for the nowhere-town of Bad City.

And it’s the first ever Farsi vampire Western! I’ll be watching director Ana Lily Amirpour with interest.