Whether or not you’re a fan of [REC] 2 (which I LOVED) or [REC] 3: Genesis (which I moderately liked), horror fans understand that Jaume Balagueró’s [REC] 4: Apocalypse brings about the end of a franchise that redefined our perception of found footage horror. [REC] was one of THE movies that pushed my cinematic tastes towards atrocious deaths and jolting scares, and knowing that TV personality Ángela Vidal will finally be going off the air for good brings a tear to my eye – despite the final film’s decision to abandon found footage completely.
[REC] 3: Genesis teases us with wedding footage to start, until a character scolds the cameraman for continuing to film while simultaneously fighting zombies (finally), where [REC] 4: Apocalypse goes full theatrical despite some surveillance camera footage. Balagueró’s solo effort rocks back and forth between being a furious zombie death cruise and a dull lazy river excursion, churning like choppy waters, which ends up making [REC]‘s final voyage that much easier to process.
[REC] 4: Apocalypse ties together everything since the initial outbreak in Barcelona up until the separate outbreak that crashed Clara and Koldo’s wedding, as a group of specialists destroy the infected apartment building while extracting lone survivor Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco). In an attempt to contain any possible lingering infections, the surviving soldiers and Ms. Vidal are shipped out to sea on an oil tanker outfitted with a makeshift medical ward. Along with Vidal is her rescuer, Guzmán (Paco Manzanedo), an old woman who slept through the horrific wedding events, and a smattering of doctors, guards, and crewmen. In true horror fashion, it’s not long before everything goes horribly awry, and the infection finds itself spreading throughout the boat – and it appears that whatever is living inside Ángela provides their only chance at creating a retrovirus.
Since the inception of [REC], a multiple-movie-franchise based around the outbreak was a doomed idea based solely on the original’s heralded success. [REC] succeeds at being a down-and-dirty found footage masterpiece (yes, those exist) that relies on heart-stopping scares, a constant sense of atmospheric dread, and an original story that places viewers smack in the middle of a zombie outbreak. [REC] 2 follows said method and keeps a strong hold on demonic scares, but by [REC] 4: Apocalypse, Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró – for lack of a better phrase – got a little too cute for their own good. By “spicing” their franchise up with a heavier focus on comedic moments and more narrative filmmaking, the latter movies devolve into nothing more than recycled 28 Days Later generics.
Balagueró’s zombies are the fastest of the bunch it seems, as these demonic offspring of Satan can be heard POUNDING the metal hallways with their heavy-footed running corridors away, appearing in mere seconds before pouncing on whatever poor character thinks they have a chance at survival. In the world of Hollywood zombies, these flesh-eating-freacks clock in at Indycar speeds, showcasing an even more fearsome presence completed by blood-red eyes and oozing, slimy skin morphings. The virus seems to evolve in each film, as the beasts have turned from typical zombie forms to sprinting hellspawns with sharp, jagged teeth – yet this only makes them appear more repetitive. The intensity is jacked in comparison to other zombie movies, and the starving creatures pose a terrifying threat, but this doesn’t distract from ill-fitting characters who really hate convenient safety and a story that seems too tightly packed into a perfect little franchise-ending package.
You know who steals the show in [REC] 4: Apocalypse? Monkeys. Seriously. Manuela Velasco is an able Spanish scream queen who’s become famous as the catalyst of [REC]‘s chaos, and I found myself bonding with Ismael Fritschi’s character Nic despite his celebrity-obsessed-lover mentality, but Balagueró brings another level of B-movie horror through his lab-rats-gone-bananas. I’m talking evil, bastard monkeys who make those bitch-ass, flying blue Witch henchmen look like a bunch of jabronis in comparison. I’d love to see Dorothy stave off an assault from these infected super-monkeys, running around the boat like a pack of ravenous velociraptors until meeting a GRISLY (and AWESOME) end at the hands of two nautical-weapon-wielding characters.
Herein lies both the problem and solution of [REC] 4: Apocalypse – Balagueró’s film is outlandish, bloody fun when gory horror effects are called upon, yet the trapped atmosphere never finds a claustrophobic fear that could have worked as a life raft. The film wants to be a midnight classic, but we already know both Plaza and Balagueró are better than that thanks to [REC]. Once the franchise started trading legitimate scares for a crisper quality and more attention to cheeky puns (“It’s party time”), an unsettling essence was lost, and the efforts of two great filmmakers turned into more zombie movies boasting a religious background. [REC] 4: Apocalypse is not a BAD movie by any means, as you’ll enjoy peeling specks of flesh and monkey fur off yourself when it’s all said and done, but I’m glad to see the franchise go before things REALLY start to become a genre fan’s worst nightmare.