[REC] 4: APOCALYPSE (2014)
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After the fun but lighter toned [REC] 3: Genesis directed by series co-creator Paco Plaza, this Spanish horror franchise returns to it’s more serious roots and brings back original chapter heroine Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) for it’s supposed conclusion. The story picks up where [REC] 2 left off with Angela being rescued from the tenement by a team of armed soldiers and finding herself in “quarantine” on a large ship at sea housing a few other survivors, including an old woman (María Alfonsa Rosso) from the wedding in [REC] 3. The ship is filled with soldiers and scientists who claim to be testing the survivors for the lethal virus before releasing them. Unknown to the survivors and crew, though, the paramilitary team is also experimenting on an antivirus and to do that, they need the infected to test it on. When one of there test subjects is freed, the zombie plague begins to spread through the ship, which is isolated at sea, and now the lives of everyone are threatened by zombies and self-destruct protocols alike.
This final(?) installment is directed by series co-creator Jaume Balagueró, who co-wrote with Manu Diez and completely jettisons the found footage format that was used for the first two films and part of the third. The film also underplays the religious overtones while returning to a darker and more intense tone after the more playful third film. Balagueró definitely gives the proceedings some nice atmosphere and cinematographer Pablo Rosso adds to that with taking full advantage of the claustrophobic old ship it’s set on. The film never quite reaches the nail-biting intensity of the first two films, but Balagueró does gives us a very exciting and suspenseful third act when the infestation is in full swing and our survivors are fighting the undead and each other. The film is also quite gory in the series tradition and the only thing that is somewhat disappointing is that it never feels like a climactic chapter, but just another installment. It never felt like it was a conclusion, or that it truly wrapped things up for the remaining characters…or the infestation for that matter. By downplaying the religious aspects of the zombie outbreak, it removes the need for a deeper explanation to what was initially a demon caused viral possession. Now it is just a virus that can be isolated and stopped once the host parasite is found and destroyed. It does take away a bit of the creepiness derived from the fact that the zombies were caused and guided by a malevolent demonic intelligence. There is only a brief moment where a character that hosts the parasite talks as if possessed, but it is brief and leads nowhere. Don’t get me wrong, the film still delivers a very entertaining and bloody 90 minutes and there is a very effective score by Amau Bataller to accent the action…of which there is plenty. It’s just the film never gives the viewer the closure they need to bid farewell to this franchise, if it truly is the end. We needed something stronger and something that felt more final.
The cast are all very good, from sexy heroine Manulela Velasco who can get just as vicious as any zombie when she needs to. Paco Manzanedo is a solid hero as Guzmán, the soldier that saves Angela from the tenement and earns himself a voyage on the ship/lab. Héctor Colomé is appropriately slimy and intense as Dr. Ricarte, who has been following this outbreak from it’s inception and seems to have his own agenda. As for the supporting players, all do solid work whether good guy, bad guy, human or zombie and having a strong cast goes far in making this as good as it is.
Overall, I liked [REC] 4 very much, but was just slightly disappointed that it chose to side-step some of the more interesting religious aspects of the initial story developed over the first three films. By doing away with the found footage formula, it both freshens it up and takes away one of the more unique aspects of the series and now it’s a routine zombie flick, though a very good one. As a conclusion, it didn’t have the weight and finality that once expects from a final chapter, but overall, it is a suspenseful and gory good time. Maybe not a completely worthy finale, but a very solid and entertaining installment in an overall quality horror series and a return to form after the lighter third chapter.
Rated 3 (out of 4) outboard motors.