The found footage sub-genre will forever be argued about in the horror community. Folks either love or hate them. The closest film to ever receive anything closely resembling a positive consensus has to be REC. Made in 2007; this relatively small-budgeted Spanish film is about a camera crew following a group of emergency workers for their latest piece. They eventually find themselves trapped in an apartment building swamped with ferocious, demonically-possessed zombies. One of REC’s greatest attributes is how exceptionally well-crafted it is. The pacing, characterization, as well as how the story unravels is the genre at its most impactful. The moment the antagonists burst onto the scene, the film kicks into high gear and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, right up to its now iconic climatic shot.
It was followed by a mediocre American remake and a satisfying beyond belief sequel. REC 2 is every bit as strong as its predecessor and like the finest sequels, it digs deeper into the mythology and offers plenty of scares and surprises. The film also managed to keep the found footage aspect fresh yet still stick true to what worked the first time around. REC 3: Genesis gets generally dumped on by fans but I actually find it to be a solid, gory piece of entertainment. The timeline is parallel to the first, allowing the filmmakers to make a separate entity, injecting a darkly humorous vibe to keep it fresh. I really dig how they cleverly eased out of the constraints of the handheld visual style of the first two and transition to a more conventional yet stylish cinematography.
Two years after the third installment, we get the highly anticipated (apparently so) finale, REC 4: Apocalypse. The story is a direct continuation of REC 2, with Ángela Vidalstate (once again reprised by Manuela Velasco) being rescued from the quarantined building. Ángela finds herself on board an ocean freighter, where things naturally go to hell yet again. Fans expecting new revelations and epic action set-pieces worthy of the franchise should be warned: prepare to be disappointed in a big, big way. REC 4 is a total letdown in every way. This film comes across as a contractual obligation, pretty visible in almost every aspect of production. The plot is as paper-thin as the characters inhabiting it. Absolutely nothing eventful happens and everything plays out painfully predictable. The state in which we last found Ángela at the conclusion of REC 2 is abandoned in the laziest way imaginable. Worse, Ángela is given nothing significant to do.
I could let these flaws slide if REC 4 was a fun-filled ride…sadly it is not. The action here is a major step down for the series. It’s by-the-numbers and often hard to make out due to the shaky camera work and quick cutting. The found footage element is reprised sparsely during the promising opening sequence and that’s about it. There’s even more of a lean on conventional cinematography than REC 3. Jaume Balagueró’s (co-director of the first two) heart just doesn’t seem into this material. REC 4 is shockingly devoid of anything resembling suspense and/or scares. While there are some decent practical make-up effects, there’s an uptick of lame CGI work. The film also manages to be the least goriest of the bunch, an aspect that even the most standard of horror sequels would generally kick up a notch.
From a fan’s perspective, I can’t express enough how huge of a disappointment REC 4 is. It feels like it should have been dumped straight-to-video where it may be considered mildly passable. The film is a significantly lesser experience compared to any of the previous three on absolutely every level. REC 3 is a masterwork in comparison. Ultimately the film’s biggest offense is that it’s dead-on-arrival, offering audience’s not much of anything resembling entertainment value.
P.S. REC 4 ends on a groan-inducing, open-ended note that should inspire Filmax to consider passing on the franchise rights to The Asylum, the only company that could take that type of story progression and do it any justice.