Scare-hounds who thought they had seen it all with Spain's 2007 zombie-outbreak opus, [REC], will be mighty surprised when they discover the evils that await them in this stellar follow-up. The hand-held camerawork aesthetic still holds true, as do the intense attack scenes, yet [REC] 2 adds a whole new ingredient to the horrific recipe: the eternal battle between the holy and the damned. It's not as if this element wasn't strongly hinted at in the original film. While the far-inferior American remake, Quarantine, so foolishly opted out of the exorcism backstory so that it could chalk it all up to rabies (ugh), those in the audience who felt cheated are given a big gift-wrapped present here. In fact, [REC] 2 not only changes the dynamic of the series, it forever switches up the first film -- a tall, and rare, feat for any sequel.
The second film picks up soon after the first, which followed a TV reporter (Manuela Velasco) as she tailed a group of firemen on an emergency call at an apartment complex infected with a viral outbreak that turned the inhabitants into blood-thirsty zombie-like creatures. Part two focuses on a small SWAT team led by Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor), a mysterious Health Department representative who guides them through the quarantined building and is the only one who holds the authority to get them out. As they make their way through the blood-splattered tenement, it soon becomes clear that this isn't a contagion in the general sense, but an example of real-life demonic possession. The doctor turns out to be a priest on order from those high up to get a blood sample from Medeiros, a possessed girl who was being experimented on by the Catholic Church within the expansive top floor of the building. However, they'll have to find her first -- and battle a legion of demons while doing so, using all the firepower and God-willed power they can muster.
The returning filmmaking team of Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró does a bang-up job of keeping things fresh while not rehashing the original film. Just 15 minutes in, they pull the demonic card, thereby changing the entire propulsion of the story. This isn't a survival tale like the first, but a righteous one, lead by the truly great Mellor -- in a wild-eyed performance equally as iconic as the moody shots of him, crucifix in hand, interrogating the possessed. There is a trade-off, of course. Those who enjoy straight-up zombie action might scoff at the religious subtext, though thankfully, there are enough dumbed-down B-flicks that fit that bill for those drooling for any and all things "zombie." Those on the other side of the horror fence who couldn't be any more sick of the zombie trend will applaud what [REC] 2 has to offer. There's meat to the tale that was only hinted at before, with ingenious thematic rationale for revisiting stylistic choices from the original film.
One valid complaint could be about the unexpected narrative break around halfway through the film. It's a gutsy choice, yet just like the first movie's quiet moments, the shift provides a lull in the chaos that some viewers may appreciate. Further viewings lessen the jarring effect -- indeed, it's almost admirable that the directing duo is so confident in what they're doing that they would try something so drastic. Needless to say, with Plaza tackling the origin tale ([REC] Genesis) next and Balagueró winding things up with [REC] Apocalypse after that, audiences are in for more stellar genre reinvention from a series unafraid of evolving past its stylistic trappings.