I might as well admit upfront that I’m coming into the [REC] series at part 4 as a complete n00b who has only seen the U.S. remake of part 1 (Quarantine), having been told that it was fairly close to the original, only to find out via wiki research that it left out key details that kept the series unique.
So why even review it? I’ll be honest – the publicists asked me to. And when so many horror movies, especially those released in January, go out of their way to avoid being reviewed by anybody, I figured one that actually seeks assessment by horror fans who know what they’re talking about could be a worthwhile watch.
The good news is that [REC] 4: Apocalypse doesn’t require a lot of knowledge of the prior franchise. The less-good news is that it feels more like a placeholder than the grand finale it’s supposed to be. And the actual bad news is that in revealing the nature of the threat once and for all, it takes away the demonic-possession element that made the series sound more interesting than your average zombie franchise.
Much like the Resident Evil series, which similarly used the “Apocalypse” subtitle but at a different stage of storytelling, [REC] 4 (good fucking god the squared brackets are annoyingly pretentious at this point) has our female protagonist eventually end up on a boat controlled by the high conspirators of the zombie virus. Rather than being named Alice, she is here called Angela (Manuela Velasco), a TV reporter whose occupation gave us the found-footage framing device for the first film. It’s a gimmick dropped entirely here for the first time in the series, though the actual footage itself plays a role in the story, which I guess allows them to keep naming these films after the record button on a camera.
Angela is one of several survivors on said boat – another is Guzman (Paco Manzanedo), one of the cops who saved her from the setting of movie 1; and a third being some crazy old lady who survived the wedding in movie 3. For what seems like quite a while, not much happens – it’s a boat, there are no apparent monsters, blah blah blah. Then an infected monkey shows up and attacks the Filipino cook, and all hell breaks loose. By which I mean a fairly controlled version of hell. And since this is no longer shot as found footage, the filmmakers are free to edit the attack sequences in a manner not unlike that of a diseased monkey, all drop frames and fast-motion. If the goal was to make me miss found-footage, the mission was accomplished.
The movie’s very best call is the inclusion of a character named Nick (Ismael Fritschi) who is arguably a caricature of the fanbase – a neckbeard hacker and superfan of Angela’s who spies on her while she’s changing and eats way too many candy bars. Yet he’d be cannon-fodder in an American film, and here he’s one of the guys who helps save the day, to the extent that the day can be saved in a movie like this. What could have been lame shorthand for a perv ends up being the best-developed person onscreen.
Perhaps the problem for the REC series is that it has failed to innovate in the 7 years since it started – the Resident Evil movies have moved further into insanity, but even basic cable shows like The Walking Dead and yes, Helix, have been forced to move their zombie/virus storytelling beyond survival-horror-in-a-box. The goal of getting off a boat didn’t do much for the Speed sequel, and aside from some cool outboard motor kills, it doesn’t do a ton for this one either.
On the plus side, choppy editing notwithstanding, Pablo Rosso’s cinematography is a crucial part of what does work, capturing both the claustrophobic corridors of the boat (which is called the Zarathustra, no less) and the wildness of its dangerously open upper decks. And there’s a moment involving Angela and the main villain which I’d go so far as to call a zombie-movie classic bit; certainly I’ve never seen it done it before.
If only the movie felt more essential, somehow. It’s billed as the climactic installment in the franchise, which implies something more than just monsters on a ship. Yet while it’s fine as a passing diversion, it finally feels unimportant as a movie unto itself.