REVIEW: REC 4 Continues Series with Successful Formula

I like the REC series. To me, each of the four movies advance the franchise in all the right ways. First, they continue the same story, which happens to be a compelling one. Second, they find new perspectives that make that same story seem fresh. Third, they also stand alone; they’re not mired in mythology. (However, there is a mythology if that’s what you want to focus on.) This all means that they present a familiar movie in new ways. So few sequels seem to successfully follow this simple formula.

The setup for each movie in the franchise is simple: an isolated zombie outbreak. But the fresh component of what at first sounds like a worn out concept is that there’s a religious angle. The zombie outbreak has demonic origins rather than simply scientific ones. This was the big twist at the end of the first movie, REC, in which an apartment building in Barcelona was quarantined after its inhabitants became afflicted/possessed. The main character, Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) was a television reporter who would return as the common thread in later installments.

Oh, and REC is a found footage franchise… sort of. It has the good sense to jettison the convention midway through the third movie, while still honoring its beginnings in the subgenre. Being a television reporter, Angela obviously travels with a camera, the better to capture all the gory goings-on. Her footage is the basis for REC and REC 2 and brings the story full circle in REC 4: Apocalypse, the latest movie in the series. (REC 3: Genesis is a parallel sequel that takes place at the same time as the events of REC and REC 2.)

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REC 4: Apocalypse begins immediately where REC 2 ended, as Angela is rescued from the quarantined apartment building. When last we saw her, she had swallowed a demonic parasite, a fact that doesn’t bode well for the ship on which she awakens with the man who rescued her, Guzman (Paco Manzanedo). This is no ordinary ship, though. It not only serves as a “safe” location for isolating potential victims and testing them for the “virus,” but also houses a top secret laboratory that no one can access.

That is, no one except Dr. Ricarte (Hector Colome) and his mostly terrified medical colleagues. It’s no spoiler to say that all hell literally breaks loose and the confined quarters of the lonely ship at sea replace those of the quarantined apartment building. Even so, there’s a mystery surrounding how exactly the localized outbreak begins and an adventure involving how anyone will survive with limited resources. As if the stakes aren’t high enough, there’s also a storm approaching and a failing engine.

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I realized while watching REC 4: Apocalypse that it’s not really scary, yet at the same time is absolutely terrifying. What I mean is that it doesn’t use the popular tricks of the horror genre to generate scares. There are no jumps, there are no quiet pauses, there is no overbearing soundtrack. Instead, it goes for outright horror through the suspense. It’s just as scary for a crazed maniac to run down the hall toward you at full speed as it is for a killer to pop up from behind a couch as a babysitter quietly enters the room.

In this sense, REC 4: Apocalypse is a non-stop onslaught of horror. Written by Jaume Balaguero and Manu Diez, and directed by Balaguero, this may be the most efficient movie in the series. It marks the return of the two to the franchise for the first time since REC 2. Absent though, directly anyway, is the assumed driving force behind the entire thing, Paco Plaza. With only a couple exceptions where one might utter the words, “yeah, right,” it’s a logical, realistic story. Why nitpick? The very existence of zombies/demons might make one say, “yea, right.”

I’m disappointed to hear that REC 4: Apocalypse is the final film in the series. I’ve enjoyed the clever ways each one has built upon the other, even the departure in tone of REC 3: Genesis. (By the way, a character from that one appears in REC 4: Apocalypse, tying the whole thing together.) On one hand, it’s always best to quit while you’re ahead. Stopping now prevents any harm from coming to the franchise. But part of me has to ask what wonderful territory could be charted in another one, particularly with the fantastically bizarre way this one ends.

REC 4: Apocalypse sails onto home video Tuesday, April 14.

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