Director: Jaume Balagueró (Darkness, [REC], [REC] 2)
Writers: Jaume Balagueró, Manu Díez
Producer: Julio Fernández
Starring: Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Héctor Colomé, Ismael Fritschi, Críspulo Cabezas
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 95 min.
[REC] 4: Apocalypse is supposedly the final entry in the popular Spanish zombie series originally created by writer-director team Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza. For the final two films in this quadrilogy, the duo decided to direct one each, on his own, with Plaza tackling [REC] 3: Genesis, and Balagueró finishing off the series. Considering the original film was released in 2007 and contained two horror mechanics that have well worn out their welcome – zombies and found footage, some might wonder if the fourth and final chapter could live up to the rest. For the most part, yes it can.
[REC] 4 begins in the infamous apartment building from the first two films, with a team of soldiers planting bombs throughout the zombie-infested corridors in order to contain the outbreak. Before leaving, the men stumble upon Ángela (Manuela Velasco), the heroine from the first film, who is mysteriously not a flesh-hungry monster. She is then transported to a research ship in the middle of the ocean where she, along with several other survivors from both the apartment and the wedding outbreak from [REC] 3, are to be looked after while a vaccine is developed. Of course, things go horribly wrong after the virus begins to spread across the ship turning everyone into ravenous killers.
The first thing one notices about [REC] 4 is that Balagueró has smartly ditched the found-footage mechanic. Plaza did the same in [REC] 3, however he opted to make his something of a hybrid, which didn’t really work in the end. Other than the occasional security camera shot, this is a traditionally shot film, and it’s the best and most-polished-looking entry in the series.
Compared to the first two films, [REC] 4 carries a much different tone and atmosphere, relying more on the location to deliver the scares. The first two films were like a frantic amusement-park ride, moving at 100 MPH and never letting you catch your breath. This one is more like Alien with survivors trapped in a claustrophobic labyrinth of air ducts and steam pipes where something could pop out from anywhere at anytime.
By this point, the overall story of the series has become slightly convoluted and is one that I’m not sure even the directors can decide on. The religious aspect that was explored in the third installment is seemingly tossed aside, and a new culprit is revealed as the cause of the infection. Although it felt like Balagueró was throwing the events of the third film completely out the window, with a series like this, the action and the scares take precedent over the plot anyway.
While not as fast and crazy as the first two, the action and horror elements in [REC] 4 are top notch. Throwing infected monkeys into the mix a nice touch, and all the make-up and gore effects looked exceptional. While the majority of the film is played straight, with little comedic levity, there are some creative, over-the-top kills that lighten the mood a bit.
I still don’t think Balagueró recaptured the magic of the first two films – [REC] and [REC] 2 – but this is a satisfying sendoff to one of the best zombie series around. The filmmakers ostensibly pulled out all the stops for budget and effects, and it was great to see Manuela Velasco back for the finale. Even for those of you feeling the zombie movie malaise, [REC] 4 Apocalypse is worth checking out.