24th Feb2015

Frightfest Glasgow 2015: ‘REC 4: Apocalypse’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Héctor Colomé, Ismael Fritschi, Críspulo Cabezas, Mariano Venancio, María Alfonsa Rosso | Written by Jaume Balagueró, Manu Diez | Directed by Jaume Balagueró

REC-4-APOCALYPSE-WEB9

When an established film series decides to shed its formula and try something wildly different in its structure – if not exactly its content – I can’t help but feel both relieved and wary. If it ain’t broke, right? On the other hand, later instalments risk becoming stale reruns of earlier movies with no sense of development or even surprise, as every gag, jump and plot twist possible has already been thrown at the audience.

Such is the dilemma I found myself in with [REC]4: Apocalypse, which ditches the found-footage style of its predecessors in favour of going for full-blown narrative cinema. I must admit, I saw no reason for concern in the intense opening sequence, as the presence of properly-framed action and quick-paced editing (editing!) felt like a natural progression of the series’ formula. Unfortunately, as the action moves from the established locale of a Barcelona apartment building to the steel confines of a cargo vessel on the high seas, reasonable progressions are tossed aside in favour of insane flights of fancy.

Most of the cast are new additions (as you’d expect from a horror franchise) but making a welcome return is Angela, the TV reporter from the first two REC films, who joins a mostly military – and male – crew aboard said ship. It’s at first unclear why she, a doddering old woman and the two cops who rescued her are there, and the team of scientists in charge of the voyage keep tight-lipped about plot-relevant details until, of course, people start dying.

But that takes absolutely aaaaaages to start happening. With most horror films these days you can expect a good 20-30 minutes of needless exposition and character development before the threat shows up, but I’ve come to expect a sense of immediacy and frenzy from the REC movies that is sorely missing from Apocalypse. Rather than the claustrophobic thrills and night-vision terrors of earlier instalments, it seems that the makers have decided to go the full Resident Evil on the franchise and push their premise to its logical extreme.

Which is to say: rabid CGI monkeys. Obviously.

I’ll hold myself accountable and admit it: I probably shouldn’t have been eating when I watched this movie. But how could I have known that infected monkeys with grotesque, pulsing features would end up making an appearance and not only biting the ship’s poor chef but then being gruesomely pan-fried to death? In close-up?

Though energised by the film’s eventual return to chaos, I quickly became aware that [REC]was never going to be the [REC] I’d come to love – the narrow labyrinthine corridors, the crumbling relationships between survivors and, crucially, that sense of terror that comes from knowing the only way into the light is through the belly of the beast. All of these elements are, to be fair, present in this film, but most of them are infused with the kind of campy humour that you’d be more likely to expect from a Piranha movie and completely negates any tension previously built up. In fact, the filmmakers seem to acknowledge this resemblance by including a full-throttle sequence in which a motorboat propeller is used to, well…you can probably figure it out.

Which wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the characters didn’t keep banging on about how dire the situation was in the most self-serious ways imaginable. Perhaps the nuances of the Spanish dialogue were lost on me as the subtitles provided with my screener seemed inaccurate at best and incomprehensible at worst. But should I be made to go easier on a film because the distributor decided that Google Translate was a perfectly adequate tool for the job?

But even without the dialogue, Apocalypse still fails to build on its three predecessors and, with its civilians-versus-military-goons conflict, ultimately ends up playing like an early draft of Day of the Dead - one that didn’t have social commentary, a consistent tone or even, frankly a lead character. Manuela Velasco is woefully underused in favour of having strong men make all the important (and dumb) decisions. She’s allowed to make the odd futile escape now and then, but mainly Angela’s just there to scream and get covered in blood. Now I mention it…

Ah well. Who ever said the fourth installment of anything was supposed to be good? Quite honestly, if you ignore all the footage from the original this film uses and squint a little, you could just pretend this was a completely unrelated schlocky B-movie with some decent practical effects and plenty of dodgy CG ones. Though if you did that I’m not exactly sure why you’d want to watch it in the first place…

[REC]4: Apocalypse will receive its UK Premiere at Frightfest Glasgow on Saturday 28th February.

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