12 February, 2010

Interview: Paco Plaza

Talking terror

European Film Awards Reviews had a chance to catch up with Spanish director Paco Plaza for a brief chat - he was in Brussels recently, busy promoting his and Catalonian fellow director Jaume Balagueró's [Rec] 2) (2009). A fine chance to talk to a man who really knows what scares you...

The horror cinéma-vérité sub-genre is enjoying a whole new lease of life - it's a concept that was set in motion by The Blair Witch Project (1999) and which, after an absence of some ten years, has been well-served recently by fake documentary flicks such as George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2007), and in 2008 by Matt Reeves’ and J.J. Abram’s Cloverfield (2008).

But, for this reviewer, the big daddy, in terms of unapologetic scares, was [Rec] (2007), which was nominated for the EFA Audience Choice Award for Best Film in 2008, and is an experience that akin to spending a night in a haunted maze, with stuff-of-nightmares images and a veritable flood of chaos, claustrophobia, and ‘Oh-my-dear-God-NO!’ moments, culminating in what is perhaps the most terrifying ‘resolution’ ever filmed.

While the monsters may now be almost perceived as 'traditional', a horror ethos suitably informed by the brilliant work of George A. Romero, the approach was anything but, and, as the sequel makes clear, there is in fact a lot more going on with these ghouls than meets the eye.

And it is this departure from modern horror norms that most interested Plaza: "We wanted to give our 'zombies' a different aspect - to mix elements of the genuinely supernatural in with the idea of a viral infection. So, in effect, our zombies are demons as well."

A twist that was, to be fair, set up very near the climax of [Rec], with Ángela (Manuela Velasco), the TV reporter who is shooting a documentary series on firemen’s night work, discovering a religious, perhaps even apocalyptic, explanation for the horror.

I'm being deliberately vague there, but that would be my point - while [Rec] 2 is still an excellent sequel, doesn't Paco perhaps think that some of the scares have been traded in because of the 'explanation', no matter how creepy or intriguing it is?

"That's an excellent point, but Jaume and I really wanted to introduce the genuinely supernatural elements, to make our film different from other horrors of this kind. I don't think we give too much away - I believe there is still enough that's left open, left unexplained, to keep it scary."

And the huge resurgance in excellent horror from Spain, with El Orfanato (The Orphanage) (2007) being another recent example? Is darkness very much a part of Spanish culture?

"It's difficult to say - I don't know if there are any special reasons, but I do know that me and Jaume and our fellow Spanish directors, we are all, more or less a group of friends, as we have all known each other since we were making short films, so we have grown up together. At a certain age, too, we were all huge fans of a Spanish TV show called Mis terrores favoritos (My Favourite Terrors), which was hosted by the great director, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, who made the renowned horror film ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? (Who Can Kill A Child? ) (1976).

"Anyway, this was at a time when there was only one TV channel in Spain - so if you were watching TV, you were watching this channel, and you had this amazing guy who, like Alfred Hitchcock, was introducing horror classics, so we were all introduced to horror like this, and it made a huge impression on us. We were able to see horror as something exciting and entertaining, and it therefore became a huge part of our culture."

For our review of [Rec] click here, and for our review of [Rec] 2 click here.

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