[REC] 4: Apocalypse (2014)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #506

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: 9 September 2014 (TIFF)
Sub-Genre: Survival Horror
Country of Origin: Spain
Box Office: $3,700,000
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Jaume Balagueró
Producer: Julio Fernández
Screenplay: Jaume Balagueró, Manu Diez
Special Effects: Josep Claret, David Ambit, Jordi Morera, Raquel Munuera
Visual Effects: Àlex Villagrasa
Cinematography: Pablo Rosso
Score: Arnau Bataller
Editing: David Gallart
Studios: Canal+ España, Somnium Films, Filmax, Rec Apocalipse
Distributor: Filmax
Stars: Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Ismael Fritschi, Hector Colome, Mariano Venancio, Críspulo Cabezas, María Alfonsa Rosso, Carlos Zabala, Cristian Aquino, Emilio Buale, Paco Obregón, Javier Laorden

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Arnau Bataller Main Theme

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In 2007, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza started an epidemic. Despite its Spanish origins, [REC] went on to create quite the global stir, becoming one of the most talked about horror movies of the year and encouraging the Americans to churn out their own localized version, John Erick Dowdle’s Quarantine. Within two years the pair were at it again and [REC] 2 divided audiences by taking the series in a new direction. Like the original it focused on a small group of survivors in a quarantined apartment complex but this time it introduced a new supernatural theme which displeased some purists. While I actually welcomed the shift in tone and still consider this to be a strong entry, others weren’t quite so enthused and alarms started to sound. At this point, Plaza did the unthinkable and [REC]³ Génesis was an entirely different creature from both its predecessors.

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Again, not everybody was convinced but, to his eternal credit, he crafted something of a minor classic. This time the disease spread further and the wedding crasher theme worked for a number of reasons. Firstly, our femme fatale Clara made quite the blushing bride and Leticia Dolera gave a belligerent account of herself as her big day rapidly turned awry. Secondly, Clara wasn’t afraid to get a little blood on her garter and there are few pieces of hardware as iconic as a fuelled-up chainsaw. Turns out that she knew how to wield it decidedly well. Plaza’s threequel may have upset some with its more comedic approach, but true horror aficionados weren’t so quick to give the bride-to-be away. Somehow, the [REC] franchise remained on course and the decision was made to give it a swan song.

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This time Balagueró returns and interestingly picks up the reins from the end of the second film. However, he is quick to point out that the third installment is still very much a part of the process and acknowledges events. Interestingly, if you watched the first, second and fourth films back-to-back, then they stream as one long [REC] nightmare and this allows him to tie things up precisely the way he intended. For continuity purposes and because she kicks ass in a wife-beater, he brings back plucky television reporter Ángela Vidal (the delectably dangerous Manuela Velasco) to wrap things up and, once again, is disinterested in showing the outbreak on a larger scale. That has never been the goal and, instead, he opts for an insular setting, playing out entirely in close quarters. We’ve already had a small building in lockdown and a wedding [REC]eption hall, so this time he chooses a location free of distraction. Ship ahoy!

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The old ocean liner chestnut is one has long since shivered me timbers. From my maiden voyage with Alvin Rakoff’s Death Ship at the tender age of ten, ocean liners have fascinated me. There is something ominous about a colossal vessel which likely stems from the fact that the thrashing waves offer no appealing back door exit. Should you drop overboard, then the likeliness is that you’ll be singing seabed shanties with Spongebob within a few turbulent wave lashes. Many have tried to maximize this setting with John Bruno’s Virus, Steve Beck’s Ghost Ship and Júlíus Kemp’s wonderfully titled Harpoon: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre all treading water reasonably well. Christopher Smith’s precious paradox Triangle probably came closest to nailing the nautical terror and [REC] 4: Apocalypse sets sail with precisely the same pirate’s swagger.

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Ángela wakes up on an oil tanker way out on the open waves and more than a little discombobulated. After being rescued from that infernal complex, she has been deemed as critical to continuing [REC]search into the virus and is holed up in the infirmary while she gathers her bearings. Fellow survivor, SWAT hot-shot Guzmán is also onboard (Paco Manzanedo), along with a blissfully aware old dear (María Alfonsa Rosso) from a certain wedding’s top table, curiously from around the same time frame. For as much as events from [REC]³ Génesis are largely superfluous to proceedings here, it is a nice touch that they are acknowledged.

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Balagueró is careful not to bolt the gate too fast and instead drops anchor as we meet and greet the remainder of the crew. While these consist largely of stock characters to make up numbers, he is careful to make them a little more than simply faces in the crowd. Among them are the devious Dr. Ricarte (Héctor Colomé), feisty foot soldier Lucas (Críspulo Cabezas), weather-beaten Captain Ortega (Mariano Venancio) and eminently likeable fat controller Nic (Ismael Fritschi) who belies his bedraggled appearance and apparent lack of match fitness to offer a sturdy ally once the rotten gibbon is cut loose from its gurney.

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Folk tend to underestimate monkeys and that’s a foolish thing to do. You see, we’re only one growth spurt away on the evolutionary chain and who is to say that they’re not still miffed over being cat aside once they had been considered too primal? One monkey is all it takes and suddenly it’s game very much on for Ángela and her ship mates. We know how it plays out by now Grueheads. One bite and the running shoes come out in seconds. Infection spreads fast and all of our extras are put to predictably insolent use. While Balagueró has taken his sweet time getting to the gristle, he has spent that time decidedly well and not once has it felt like we’re sinking. However, it is crunch time now and his vessel changes course in the customary split second.

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Numbers are whittled down accordingly and the confines of the freighter’s lower decks are used to their advantages as each cramped walkway is easily compromised and drooling deviants have endless nooks and crannies from which to launch their sneak attacks. Throw in a pack of rancid monkeys and we have ourselves a real dead zone. This is the only entry which completely disregards found footage and, instead, CCTV provides our roving eye in the sky as we watch events unfurl whilst raiding Nic’s hidden candy bar stash. Pablo Rosso’s tight-angled cinematography makes the most of the insular setting while David Gallart’s zippy fast-cut edits ensure that we are offered precious little room for maneuver.

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Everything is running tickety-boo at this point and that is invariably how it remains right through its 95 minute running time. However, for as much as continuity has been upheld and logic restored after the admittedly playful tone of [REC]³ Génesis, this has more in common with the third film than first [REC]ognized. In truth, it operates space between the two stalls and there is more than a dash of John McClane about Ángela and a fair splash of Ellen Ripley too. He has already explored any supernatural connotations and wishes instead merely to take us out with a bang. With [REC] 4: Apocalypse he achieves that bang but, it has to be said, it is at the expense of ever prising us free from our skins.

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This is my only complaint about Balagueró’s ballsy conclusion. It offers a pretty much non-stop adrenaline hit and can never be accused of lacking vigor. But, should you be like Keeper, then the next image will remind you exactly what we’re missing. With a pair of sagging breasts like a pair of damp Jodhpurs stuffed with rocks and a face even her own mother loathes, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the one, the only missing link.

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Just one last dance would have sufficed. A single kiss is all we receive and, while certainly a memorable embrace, I miss the unmistakable aroma of her rotting green flesh in my nostrils. Thankfully we have chubby hero Nic and one helluva stash of popcorn to sweeten the deal. [REC] 4: Apocalypse is not rocket science and neither does it set out with that obligation. Say what you will about Balagueró and Plaza’s four-piece but, regardless of any ebbs and flows, one thing has remained consistent and that is quality. I have awarded both [REC] and [REC]³ Génesis 8/10 and, when I finally get around to revisiting [REC]2, fully expect it to maintain that average. This is where perspective is required as, while I would regard this pound for pound as my least favorite entry, it’s ultimately all subjective. On its own merits, as a piece of slam-bang entertainment, it’s every bit worthy of the same [REC]spect.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers: After the insane splatter of Plaza’s third outing, the only way possible is down. There is plenty of ooze and some particularly painful looking mastication but it is upon the introduction of a revved-up boat-motor that things begin to get decidedly messy. Primate lovers may need to avert their eyes as monkey puree is on the menu and it is served up with a flavorsome side of beetroot face garnish. The practical FX has been a high point and CGI only used when absolutely necessary which, given the dynamic clip in which each atrocity is captured, showcases how the two can be used together effectively.

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