'REC 2,' 'Cell 211' get rousing reception

SITGES, Spain — The Sitges Film Festival rounded its first bend over the weekend with a clutch of appreciated titles, led by “REC 2,” and “Celda 211″ (Cell 211).

Their Spanish preems came as Sitges industry announcements suggests Catalonia’s industry — both film and TV — continues to break new barriers.

“REC 2,” the sequel to cult hit “REC,” opened Sitges Thursday to whoops of applause before and during two screenings.

Produced by Barcelona’s Filmax and co-directed by Paco Plaza and Catalan Jaume Balaguero (“Darkness,” “Fragile”), both local heroes, “REC 2″ of course played to a home crowd.

“REC 2″ takes a sarcastic swipe at a remarkably obstreperous and violent special unit dispatched into an apparently zombie-infested Barcelona tenement. Rarely on film have Spain’s forces of order seemed so disordered.

Social issues aside, general Sitges verdict was that “REC 2″ was good splatterfiesta fun. Sold out overseas pretty much everywhere, “REC 2″ bowed Friday in Spain. At Euros 2.2 million ($3.3 million) off 360 prints, first weekend B.O. was 30% up on “REC,” off similar print-runs.

A Venice and Toronto player, Daniel Monzon’s pulsating-from-the-get-go jail-set thriller “Cell 211″ looks like one of the standout films of the fest — despite playing out-of-competition.

Toplining Luis Tosar (“Miami Vice”), who looks a shoo-in for a Goya actor nom, pic was near universally applauded by crits and public.

First bowing in Cannes’ Critics’ Week, Gabe Ibanez psychological thriller “Hierro” had the industry talking about Ibanez as a talent to track.

“Hierro” has sold healthily for Wild Bunch.

France’s Films Distribution has licensed “Cell 211″ to Germany (Senator), U.K. (Optimum), Italy (Bolero), Russia (Luxor) and Australia (Hopscotch), said FD partner Nicolas Brigaud-Robert. “Cell’s” Toronto screening has triggered remake negotiations with U.S. majors.

“The distributors who have bought the movie suggest it goes beyond arthouse fare and has crossover potential,” Brigaud-Robert said.

International sales on all three films suggest an irony: Much of Spain’s media has written off the Spanish cinema as subsidy-sated auteurish self-gratification.

Meanwhile, Spain’s newest directors are making genre films with or without a social point — “Cell 211″ is a damning portrayal of prison conditions in Spain — which command sales worldwide.

Of other films, there was praise for Sitges Competition short “Alma,” a delicate toon about a girl who’s fascinated by a puppet, directed by Spanish Pixar character animator Rodrigo Blaas.

Presented by a platinum-haired Jamie Campbell Bower, three Spanish-dubbed excerpts from “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” world-preemed to 1,350 screaming teens, up to 200 of whom slept out Friday night around the Melia Sitges Hotel, fest’s H.Q., to get a good peek at Campbell.

Jaume Collet-Serra, a Catalan homeboy made good in Hollywood, presented the Joel Silver-produced “Orphan,” and said January shoot dates had been set for his next gig, Liam Neeson starrer “Unknown White Male,” which will shoot in Berlin.

“It’s very, very Hitchcock,” Collet-Serra commented.

“REC 2″ and “Hierro” are pretty straight-arrow thrillers. Elsewhere, however, Sitges showed Spain’s newest generation of producers pushing the envelope on various fronts.

Eduardo Noriega (“Vantage Point”) will star in “Agnosia,” the second film from Eugenio Mira (“The Birthday”), “Hierro” co-producer Jesus de la Vega confirmed at Sitges.

Noriega joins Barbara Goenaga, Lluis Homar, Felix Gomez and Martina Gedeck.

Co-produced by Miguel Angel Faura’s Barcelona-based Roxbury Pics, De La Vega’s Madrugada Films and Telecinco Cinema, the pic is a romantic thriller set in Spain’s late 19th century where an optician designs a deadly massive lens. While tried-and-tested in France and the U.K., “Agnosia” reps one of Spain’s first stabs at retro futuristic thrillers.

“Hierro” director Ibanez is now moving “Automata,” an A.I.-themed sci-fi thriller budgeted at lowish double million-dollar figures.

With “Eva,” Spain’s first robot film, rolling December, sci-fi looks like the next frontier that Spain’s youngest generation of filmmakers will soon cross.

Fest runs Oct. 2-12.

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