Review: [REC] 4: Apocalypse

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REC 4 Angela Vidal

There’s a perception of the [REC] series as an uneven one. The spectacular nerve-jangling double feature of [REC] 1 & 2 offset by Genesis, the sweet, splattered, romantic horror comedy of a third film which departed in tone and even the visual style for which the films are named. This is frankly false. It was a clever choice of Paco Plaza’s to deviate and refresh [REC], and not simply trade in the established funhouse of night vision nightmares. Instead, where the [REC] films fall flat is now unfortunately what’s supposed to be its culmination, its grand finale. 

Largely straightforward B-movie action horror, [REC] 4: Apocalypse is another contained tale. From apartment to wedding hall to boat, the series created by Plaza and Jaume Balaguero has been about being trapped. In the claustrophobic first two, its characters simply move up and down the now infamous apartment building in attempts to avoid rabid, violently (and virally) possessed. Genesis meanwhile, sees its newlyweds trapped on their wedding day, confined with each other’s families and guests, simply caring to just get back to one another.

[REC] 4, ostensibly, has a similar set up. Angela Vidal (pleasantly reprised by Manuela Velasco), heroine of the first film has been extracted and relocated with military personnel, medical staff, boat crew and even one of Genesis’ wedding guests to a large cargo ship. There, Dr. Ricarte (Héctor Colomé) attempts to suss out the carrier of the virus and put an end to its reign. The idea is that being cornered, with nothing but miles of ocean surrounding you is as effective as being quarantined in an apartment house. Instead—and apologies for this—the film feels adrift.

Which is a shame, given the talent behind the film. Balaguero, one of the main architects behind [REC] as a whole, has repeatedly proven his ability to frighten both within POV and without. Which is to say [REC] is as suspenseful as the elegant, Hitchcockian Sleep Tight. Neither style is his intent here, though. Though lensed nicely, [REC] 4 plays as an action-horror throwback, a linear, charged (but not super) adventure on the high seas in which an ensemble are up against a growing horde of bloodthirsty possessed. There’s the tank topped heroine, the soldiers, the unassuming tech head and the sinister doctor/clergy. None manage to rise above those one-word descriptors however, which is most unfortunate for Velasco, whose fantastic energy in the first films is underserved here.

As absent as Angela Vidal’s spirit and Balaguero’s taut atmosphere is the over-the-top nature which linked [REC] as a franchise. A short section of possessed monkey attacks are a tad demented, but that nuttiness and especially that gory nature is otherwise far too dialed-down. [REC] 4 just never goes for broke. When the film isn’t staging its bloody attacks, it’s needlessly rounding up the films and trying to wrangle the contradictory nature of each (Virus! Science! Religion! Both!).

Perhaps [REC] 4 would’ve been better served (as its subtitle would indicate) by deviating even further, or going even bigger. What’s apparent by film’s end is that [REC] 2 already reached the actioner aspirations of this fourth film, something made abundantly clear when it impotently tries to recall that movie’s slithering serpent climax.

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Weekend: Mar. 28, 2019, Mar. 31, 2019

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