The REC series has certainly gone through some interesting changes across its four films. It has morphed from a zombie film to a demonic possession film to a slapstick comedy and now to an evil parasite/scientist film. To say that the differences between each film in the series remind me of how different each film is in the Alien franchise would be an understatement (I even consider both Alien 3 and REC 3: Genesis to be good films, but terrible sequels). So here we are with REC 4: Apocalypse, the supposed end to the franchise that started out with a bang and ends with a whimper. Warning: spoilers for the previous films in the franchise will be discussed in the following review.
REC 4 opens immediately following the events of REC 2 (and REC 3 as well, I suppose) as we see GEO soldiers Guzmán (Paco Manzanedo) and Lucas (Críspulo Cabezas) enter the infamous apartment building only to find Ángela (a very welcome return from Manuela Velasco) wandering the halls. From there, the film cuts to Ángela waking up strapped to a gurney on a ship that doubles as a government research facility. Upon Ángela’s release from confinement, she re-teams with Guzmán and we are introduced to head honcho Dr. Ricarte (Héctor Colomé), computer whiz Nic (Ismael Fritschi) and an elderly woman (María Alfonsa Rosso) who is the sole survivor of the events of the third film (even though, to my knowledge, we never met her in that film). After a while (a good 30 minutes) an infected monkey is loosed on the ship and it becomes a fight for survival as we follow the passengers’ attempt to extinguish the virus (parasite? demon?) once and for all.
First for the good: it is very refreshing to have Velasco back as our heroine Ángela, who was sorely missing from the third installment. She gives us someone to care about (even though the final moments of the second film would suggest otherwise) in a sea of characters that, unfortunately are relegated to paper-thin stereotypes (cop, mad scientist, nerd, etc.). The film veers away from the comedy of the previous film as well, with a welcome return to the serious tone of the first two installments. Also great is the practical effects team. The make-up effects are top notch on the infected and there are some truly gruesome images on display here.
The direction is also pretty solid, as Jaume Balagueró has proven before that he is more than capable of directing a solid thriller. There are some fairly memorable scenes that he constructs with prowess, including a scene early on with a monkey that has to be an homage to the kitchen scene from Gremlins. The climax of REC 4 is also sufficiently thrilling, with a countdown in effect to ratchet up the tension a la the ending of a Resident Evil game.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good ends with REC 4. The rest of the movie is just not that thrilling and, if I’m being honest, it’s kind of dull. It isn’t until the final 20 or so minutes that I really became involved with what was happening on screen. Once we are introduced to the boat, the narrative just kind of stalls. Sure, there are things happening, like Nic attempting to recover all of the footage from Angela’s camera and an infected monkey getting loose and Dr. Ricarte trying to find a vaccine, but none of it is that particularly compelling.You would think that setting the film on a boat would give it a sense of claustrophobia but it just doesn’t really work.
While there are some stunning practical effects, there is also some godawful CGI sprinkled in as well. Most of this involved the monkey (the first time we see it crawling on the wall it looks like a cartoon), but there is quite a bit of CGI gore in there as well. Most of it is excess blood splatter, but it’s still noticeably fake and the film would have been better off without it.
The REC series seemed to have lost its way beginning with the third installment. It just doesn’t know what it wants to be. I’m all for breaking the mold and trying a different route, but REC 4 completely disregards the religious and demonic aspects of the first three films and makes this one strictly about a killer parasite looking for the best host. On top of that, REC 3 is deemed even more unnecessary (even though I do enjoy it, as weird a departure as it is) by the fact that, if it wasn’t for Rosso’s character and one or two references to a wedding, it isn’t even referenced. It doesn’t make sense in the continuity of the franchise, and it’s disappointing that these things were not touched on more in REC 4.
Also, this is a huge nitpick and not really relevant to the quality of the film but I just had to throw it out there: is it very wise for characters to be slicing into infected flesh with chainsaws and boat motors with their mouths wide open? I get that Balagueró was going for an Evil Dead vibe but since this film decided to take a more serious tone it just seems impractical. It takes me out of the movie almost as much as seeing a (555) area code does. End rant.
I love REC and REC 2, and I find REC 3 to be an enjoyably silly film, if a little underwhelming. REC 4, while it has moments of inspiration, is an unfortunately disappointing end to this once promising franchise. It has been said that this is the final film in the franchise, and maybe that’s for the best. I wouldn’t mind a fifth film to course-correct, though. Based on the final shot, another sequel wouldn’t be completely out of the question. Who knows what direction they would take this waning franchise next though?