Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Horror Violence/Gore, and Language
(Spanish with English subtitles)
Directed by: Jaume Balaguero
Written by: Jaume Balaguero & Manu Diez
Starring: Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Hector Colome, Ismael Fritschi, Crispulo Cabezas & Paco Obregon
In 2008, I was a horror-loving high school student that sought out any new scary flick. One film that had stellar reviews was [REC]. Though gaining positive word-of-mouth from various film festivals, [REC] had not seen a proper release on U.S. shores and the English-language remake QUARANTINE ensured that would remain the case for a while. Through the magic of Ebay, I scored myself an import of [REC] and on a cool summer night, I watched the film. [REC] is a nightmarish modern horror classic. In 2010, [REC] 2 came out and delivered a solid sequel. Soon after, news came that director team behind the two [REC] films were splitting up to make two final chapters in the series on their own. In 2012, Paco Plaza’s [REC] 3 turned out to be a disappointment for several reasons. I held out hope that the far more talented Jaume Balaguero would deliver in [REC] 4 (the final film). Having now watched Balaguero’s conclusion, I can sadly say that the fourth installment doesn’t fare much better than the third. In fact, [REC] 4: APOCALYPSE feels like Balaguero is phoning it in.
[REC] 4 abandons the found footage approach in the same way that [REC] 3 did. The film opens mere minutes after the climax of [REC] 2. A special forces team is sent in to blow up the quarantined apartment building. Their mission is a success, but only one team member survives and makes it out with the still-living TV host (from the first two films) Angela Vidal. Angela, the special team member, and another survivor (from the wedding party in [REC] 3) are taken to an off-shore lab for medical testing. The determined, morally questionable Dr. Ricarte leads a team in charge of creating a cure for the demonic disease that transformed the residents of an apartment complex into possessed zombie-like maniacs. Ricarte’s experiments aren’t going as planned. As one thing leads to another, tensions arise between survivors and scientists. This isn’t helped by the demonic virus getting loose on this large ship!
It’s extremely disappointing that Jaume Balaguero decided to approach the final installment from a traditional narrative as opposed to a found footage take that might have provided the scares that this horror film lacks. Even more of a let down is Balaguero removing the demonic elements from the [REC] series and rewriting the previous films’ histories. This means that [REC] 4 becomes exactly what [REC] 3 was: a generic zombie movie. As if to hammer this point home, most of the zombies look like exact duplicates of each other with very few exceptions. However, there is the rather useless addition of infected monkeys that are brought to life through sketchy CGI and cheap hand puppets. One infected monkey does serve a purpose near the middle of the film, but in a way that slaps the viewer’s intelligence with a monumentally ridiculous character decision.
Balaguero does manage to get a few things half-right. The boat setting of [REC] 4 does feel fresh and the film is well shot during the non-zombie sequences. During zombie attacks, the camera shakes all over the place like the person holding it was having a seizure. There are also a couple of creative ideas that are never completely realized in a satisfying way. One of these involves effects of the virus on its main host and a certain character’s mysterious past is briefly glimpsed through a revelation that needed to be fleshed out further.
Despite a couple of brief interesting ideas and a good setting, the plot is bare-bones in a bad way. By stripping the demonic possession angle out of the [REC] series and removing the actual style that made the first films so well-crafted, [REC] 4 resembles hundreds of other zombie movies that have come before. There isn’t necessarily anything special to make it stand out aside from the title. The story mainly consists of people running from one area of the boat to another area, all while repetitive confrontations between the living and zombies play out. Every zombie scene feels the same, but that doesn’t stop Jaume Balaguero from including plenty of them. Only a motor being utilized as a weapon stands out, but it’s used in an over-the-top fashion that feels desperate.
[REC] 4 feels like the ALIEN: RESURRECTION of its franchise. Both movies abandon sensibilities that made the earlier entries so great and in the end, feel like many other generic films of their sub-genre (zombie or monster movies). Both fourth installments look visually slick (when the camera isn’t shaking all over the place in [REC] 4), but mainly consist of people running around ships (in space or on the ocean). [REC] 4 and ALIEN 4 both have creative ideas, but never flesh them out beyond a mere glimpse at the possibility of what could have played out instead of what actually happened. Like ALIEN: RESURRECTION, [REC] 4: APOCALYPSE feels a bit like a fan film…but in an even worse way. If you’re absolutely dedicated beyond belief to the [REC] franchise and dug Plaza’s [REC] 3, then you might find some fun in this grand finale. Those hoping for Jaume Balaguero to deliver a satisfying conclusion had best pretend [REC] 4 doesn’t exist.