2014 - 95 minutes
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró
Written by: Jaume Balagueró, Manu Diez
Starring: Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Hector Colome, Mariano Venancio
Writer-director team Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza created one of this century’s best horror films with [REC] and were able to follow that up with a rare satisfying sequel. Even though the subject matter and execution – zombies/infected and POV found footage style – feels dated now, and perhaps even then, the first two installments in this series still hold up. The original is one of the most terrifying films of recent memory.
For the third film, [REC] 3: Genesis, Plaza took on directorial duties solo, while for this fourth – and alleged last – film in the series, Balagueró is the sole helmer. As the series evolves so has the approach, with the third movie changing settings to a wedding celebration and combining the found footage aesthetic with traditional shooting techniques. [REC] 4: Apocalypse circles back to familiar strings from the first two films, but completely drops the POV style. The results are mixed, with an injection of fun genre beats, but the overwhelming sense of dread is lost.
We pick up in the quarantined apartment building from the first two installments as soldier Guzman (Paco Manzanedo) places explosive charges to destroy the cursed structure. After encountering some infected he comes across amnesic reporter Angela (Manuela Velaco), who remembers little of the horrors she’s faced. The duo, along with other survivors that include one from [REC] 3’s wedding, wake to find themselves massive ship where the infection is being studied and a cure is being worked on. Experiments conducted by Dr. Ricarte (Héctor Colomé) predictably go awry; unleashing furious flesh eating hordes of zombies on Guzman, Angela, and a band of survivors that also includes Nic (Ismale Fritschi), a computer whiz who’s helping ascertain the depth of the threat and its origins.
A major differentiator between [REC] 4 and the first two films is the ramping up of gore and dialing back of oppressive atmosphere. Even though characters are trapped on a ship at sea with little hope of escape, the claustrophobia never rises to the paranoia-inducing situation in the apartment building. Things can (and do) pop out of the darkness behind pipes or portholes, but it gets repetitive and feels standard instead of startling. Over-the-top weaponry, including harpoons and an outboard motor, and very detailed zombie bites and tears are used to great effect by Balagueró, shifting the craziness from fear of infection to a more cheerful brand of graphic bloodletting.
Not knowing what was happening in the outside world was part of the emotional instability created in [REC] and [REC] 2 inside the apartment complex. [REC] 4 shoots for something similar with the setting and doctors playing coy about their methods and reasoning, but their secrets only serve to delay explanations rather than creating a disquieting tone.
The convolution of the plot also makes for some clunky inertia; the religious tinged source of infection is theorized and explained while Nic sorts through the damaged footage of Angela’s camera to find the truth. It’s good to see Velaco back as the key cog in the story, however it feels like she gets shoved aside at several points just so we can get a tour of the ship to understand its architecture or be told more of doctors’ purpose. The actress handles both the distress and the heroism; it just would’ve been nice to see her a bit more to have a more tangible through line.
When the infected teeth hit the thyroids of new victims [REC] 4 hits it stride, only to slow down again at the climax to provide some twists and more information on the virus. As is usually the case, the threat’s power to scare is largely lost once it’s explained, and here it even manifests itself physically which further zaps effectiveness. The “thing” isn’t nearly as scary as its metaphysical construct. That said, [REC] 4 is enjoyable enough as an occasionally rollicking creature feature; it just can’t quite overcome the genre staleness that the first two films transcended so wonderfully.