Horror fans tend to dismiss the 2000s as being the nadir of the genre, and it’s hard not to agree with them. The constant remakes of older, established slasher films, the seemingly endless parade of Japanese ghost stories – always advertised as “the scariest thing since The Ring” – and, of course, the gruesome and frankly un-involving torture porn franchises. However, the fans who step away from the American studios will find there are some real gems still out there, perhaps the best of these being Spain’s [Rec]. A zombie movie with a difference,[Rec] is a breath of fresh air, and proves the horror genre may not be quite dead and buried and yet.The film beings with Angela (Manuela Velasco) introducing herself as the host of ‘While You’ re Asleep,’ a reality TV show which follows the nightly activities of various Barcelona services – this episode focusing on the Fire Department. After a couple of brief introductions in which a clearly bored Angela greets the team, the film launches forward with a seemingly innocuous call from a down town apartment – though the details are unclear, it seems an elderly resident as had an accident and is in need of assistance. What could go wrong? It turns out a lot. The elderly woman is found covered in blood and feral, and in a bizarre show of strength, attacks and bites an investigating police officer. Needing to get the man to the hospital, the team hurry downstairs to find the government inexplicitly sealing off the apartment, with a promise that everything will be resolved soon. Both the characters and the audience are left confused and disorientated as the horror begins to unfold.Of all the handheld horror movies to follow The Blair Witch Project, this is easily the best. When it comes to these movies, the audience inevitably ask, ‘why don’t they just leave the camera?’ which is a fair point – take Cloverfield for example, in which the characters’ camera is never dropped, despite the city literally collapsing around them. Angela and her cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso, also the cinematographer), are TV personalities; it makes sense for them to keep filming, especially when they’re providing a record of their government’s complete disregard for civil liberties. Combine this with the fact that the apartment is so small that dropping the camera would be pointless anyway, and you have a film which the audience can really get involved in. Velasco is convincing, firstly as an ambitious young reporter and secondly as a terrified human being trying to keep her wits in order to survive. Crucially, she’s likeable and realistic – she behaves as any sane person would in such an insane situation, and the audience really do care about her fate. The rest of the cast are admittedly under developed yet still believable, which is essentially all they have to be as monster food. But more so than other handheld movies, this one does exactly what it sets out to do – makes the audience feel as though they’re right there, running and screaming with the characters.And there’s a lot of screaming to be done. Make no mistake, [Rec] is scary. The apartment complex, with its winding staircase and narrow, dark corridors, is intensely claustrophobic, and nowhere feels safe. The handheld camera adds to the horror by never quite showing the full picture, and the directors know that it’s the unseen which really scares – the shape in the corner, which comes at you before you’ve quite registered that it’s there. Being a handheld film means there’s no soundtrack as such, but the directors’ make use of echoes, bangs and distant screams to suggest the nightmares lurking above. In terms of pacing the film is excellent – the brisk running time means we’re thrown straight into the horror, given just the amount of exposition needed before the directors let the monsters loose and drastically reduce the cast of survivors, leading to tense scenes of Angela and company desperately trying to find an escape route without being, well, eaten. The horror tightens its grip on the audience as the film progresses towards its The Silence of the Lambs inspired ending, which stands as one of the most intense horror set pieces since Jack Nicholson took an axe to that bathroom door.This is really a zombie movie with a difference, yet the concept is so simple a hundred writers around the world must have kicked themselves for not thinking of it first. It’s obvious that Balagueró and Paco love these kind of movies, as [Rec] essentially borrows the best bits of zombie genre and recycles them into new levels of terror – the claustrophobia of Night of the Living Dead, the panic of 28 Days Later – and there are homage’s to other genre giants too, such as The Exorcist and The Shining. Perhaps one of the film’s most original elements however is how it manages to mix supernatural with science-fiction – an idea which many have tried and failed to pull off over the years, but which here is totally convincing within the world of the movie. The sequel runs with this idea suggesting that the [Rec] franchise is certainly one to keep an eye on, and one horror fans have been waiting on for a long time.[Rec] then stands as the light at the end of a very dark corridor. It’s intense, full of energy, and almost works as a love-letter to the zombie movie. Sure, the film has been hyped up since its release, and of course there was an inevitable, rather pointless American remake, but none of this diminishes the film’s effect. The perfect Spanish renaissance, it’s refreshing to see that the horror genre actually has an afterlife.