[REC] 4: Apocalypse is probably the sequel you wanted after [REC 2], as it follows intrepid TV host Ángela Vidal’s escape from the infected apartment and delves more into the cause of and solution to the franchise’s demonic strain of zombification. That said, it also doesn’t ignore the events of [REC 3]: Genesis, a parallel sequel that audiences panned for abandoning the punishing horror of its predecessors in favor of dark comedy and over-the-top Troma-esque gore. I rather liked [REC 3], to be honest. It felt like an attempt by the filmmakers to stay ahead of the curve, what with found footage horror’s popularity on the decline as horror comedies like Dead Snow and Rubber fortified Netflix queues. A statement unto itself, [REC 3] begins as found footage before abandoning the style 20 minutes in; [REC] 4, however, abandons it entirely, rebranding its title card to depict the cold steel of a fallout shelter and not the glowing red [REC] icon of a video camera. Factor this in with its subtitle and [REC] 4: Apocalypse seems to promise something altogether more epic than those that came before. What we get, though, for better and for worse, is more of the same: capable survivors and shrieking zombies in a dark, claustrophobic setting.
Here, that setting is a military ship under precautionary quarantine. Ángela, who revealed herself as host to the infection’s mother parasite at the end of [REC 2], is on board with the soldiers who rescued her, the sole survivor of [REC 3]’s ill-fated wedding, and a demonic monkey. Yes, a demonic monkey. There’s also a smattering of scientists, whose true intentions hint that maybe the ship’s quarantine isn’t so precautionary after all. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the infection eventually runs rampant, with our ensemble thinned out considerably.
Writer/director Jaume Balagueró was behind the film’s first two entries, and the claustrophobic chaos he conjured so beautifully in those films is on display here. But he seems also to have taken notes from the debauched [REC 3], a film helmed by Balagueró’s creative partner Paco Plaza. The third act of Apocalypse brims with creative kills — a refashioned boat propeller is one especially inspired touch — that skew more comedic than horrifying. And though fun in the moment to moment, the film ultimately rings a bit hollow; in the early films, Balagueró and Plaza built such a rich, mystifying mythology fusing science and religion, so to see it culminate in such a rote, clinical fashion feels anticlimactic. There’s also the problem of Ángela, who’s depicted as possessed at the end of [REC 2], but presented as sympathetic and conflicted in Apocalypse. Her inconsistencies are eventually reconciled, but fans of the series may find themselves unsure of how to process the character in the early going. I know I did.
I also find myself missing the found footage aesthetic of the early films. Unlike most movies in the sub-genre, [REC] understood how to exploit the style to capitalize on cluelessness and disorientation. Some of [REC]’s most horrifying sequences don’t involve zombies at all, but rather the arrival of characters in hazmat suits and helicopters shining spotlights outside. You’ll find no such shocks in Apocalypse; here, it’s all about chases down narrow passageways and flesh ripping from skin. Luckily, that stuff’s awesome, too. Apocalypse is slated to be the end of the [REC] series, and though I can’t say it went out with a bang, it certainly didn’t go out with a whimper.