'[REC] 4: Apocalypse': Toronto Review

Rec 4 Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

Rec 4 Still - H 2014

A slick, shamelessly excessive hi-tech sweat and gore exercise with thrills and shocks but few chills  

'Ship[REC]': Spain's best-known horror saga closes with virus, victims and zombies trapped together at sea

[REC] 1 and 2 created many fearful fans, but the series fell from public and critical favor with its third iteration. This final film in the zombie virus saga doesn’t provide the conceptual shivers and scares that 1 and 2 delivered so generously, so [REC] early adopters will likely be disappointed. But this has been designed differently, and as an above-average adrenaline-driven roller-coaster ride, which offsets its multiple cliches with raw, controlled energy, it works.

There’s satisfaction in seeing how tidily things wrap up, and it just about works as stand-alone too. But though it’s more than than just a money-spinning extension, and though it’s far stronger than [REC] 3, ultimately [REC] 4 confirms that it’s the first two installments that will be remembered. The fourquel has presold worldwide.

The last we saw of Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco, whose film oeuvre is unjustly practically limited to her [REC] appearances), a large worm-like object was slithering from the mouth of a possessed child into her body in perhaps the most disturbing few seconds that Spanish horror has yet provided. (There's a second chance to see it here.) Angela’s escape from that is shown as found footage, before abandoning the form in favor of often frenzied hand-held.

She awakens in a laboratory aboard an ocean liner at sea, where Dr. Ricarte (Hector Colome) is subjecting Angela to experiments for reasons that presumably violate the Hippocratic oath. Among others on board the ship are Guzman (Paco Manzanedo), the muscle-bound military man who pulled her out alive, computer hacker and Angela fanboy Nic (Ismael Fritschi), who’s nerdy and loveable at the same time, and a frail, elderly woman (Maria Alfonsa Rosso) who believes she is still at the wedding party gone wrong featured in [REC] 3. Angela and the elderly woman are the only two female characters aboard a ship that’s apparently testosterone-fueled.

Insisting that she’s free of the zombie virus, Angela escapes: But what about that worm inside her? Meanwhile, as a storm approaches and the lights start to flicker, the Filipino cook, Edwin (Cristian Aquino) merrily chops meat in the kitchen before being attacked by an escaped infected monkey. In one of several lip-lickingly deranged scenes, Edwin's last act on this Earth is to slay the simian by frying, thus inadvertently adding a portion of zombie virus to the on-board menu.

Apparently edited by a Guillermo De La Cal on speed, and lensed by Pablo Rosso with a crispness and clarity that leaves nothing to the imagination, REC [4] grips as the action lurches efficiently from one claustrophobic area of the vessel to another while bloodied, distorted faces pop up at porthole windows. It's punchy, but it does not scare and rarely surprises either as drama or concept.

The early films depended on the realism of the setting and of the recording medium, but unless you’ve cruised the high seas in the company of the living dead, [REC] 4 isn’t going to reach you that way. Indeed, vast amounts of tech artifice can be felt at work behind virtually every scene.

A couple of times the plot strays into interesting areas, as with the idea that the worm might ensure that its own host is immune: the resulting face-off between Angela and Dr. Ricarte thus acquires a psychological dimension, which is otherwise practically absent, and which evaporates too quickly as things proceed swiftly to the next bloodied monkey.

Not a great deal is demanded of most of the cast, and the pace of things dictates that character work is slim — but that said, Velasco is wonderfully committed and energetic as the externally fragile, internally tough heroine surrounded and outnumbered by men, machinery and marauding zombies.

Indeed, the zombies are absent from the most authentically disturbing scene in [REC] 4, which has evil scientists and military men forcing themselves on the frightened, screaming Angela in order to access the worm inside her — a rape scene by any other name.

Viewer doubts this may just be nasty and exploitative are quashed by the very final scene: The suggestion is that the heroically defiant Angela can add men in general to the lengthy list of enemies she’s fighting against. Perhaps director Jaume Balaguero, having now unshackled himself from the REC monster, might now be free to again tackle something that really matters.

Production companies: Filmax, Castelao Pictures, REC APOCALYPSE
Cast: Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Hector Colome, Ismael Fritschi, Crispulo Cabezas, Mariano Venancio, Maria Alfonsa Rosso, Carlos Zabala, Cristian Aquino, Emilio Buale
Director: Jaume Balaguero
Screenwriters: Balaguero, Manu Diez
Producer: Julio Fernandez
Executive producers: Julio Fernandez, Carlos Fernandez, Laura Fernandez, Adria Mones
Director of photography: Pablo Rosso
Production designer: Javier Alvarino
Costume designer: Joaquin Sanchez
Editor: Guillermo De La Cal
Composer: Arnau Bataller
Sales: Screen Gems

No MPAA rating, 96 minutes