The first [Rec] movie was a fresh, gripping, superbly done take on the found footage genre. What appealed to many was the fact that there was no back story, with only partial explanation towards the end. The viewer was immersed in the events from the get go, with minimum exposition. Yet the directing duo (Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza) were able to show likable characters on the screen which people could root for. The film was a well deserved success, so inevitably it spawned sequels. [Rec] 2 tried to expand on the demonic possession via a viral infection theme, and in my eyes failed miserably. A religious angle with Vatican super agents in disguise plus questionable developments in the second half (doors only visible through night vision and so on) made the second installment rather silly. Still well executed though. For the third and fourth movie in the series the two directors parted ways, each to tell their own chapter. Paco Plaza helmed [Rec] 3: Genesis, which after a short introduction abandoned first-person camera style for traditional storytelling and added copious amounts of humor. For some it worked, but I wasn’t a fan of the comic elements, however the switch to an objective camera perspective was the right choice. After two entries done hand-held style it was time to explore other angles to the story. [Rec] 4: Apocalypse was directed by Jaume Balagueró and further departs from the style of the first two entries.
The story takes off where [Rec] 2 roughly finished. An armed team enters the building to extract Angela, who is the sole survivor of the outbreak shown in first two films. She wakes up in a medical room, constrained and tested upon. The place turns out to be a ship converted into a research centre, where military scientists are trying to isolate a vaccine for the virus. On board with Angela there are two members of the Special Forces team that rescued her and an elderly member of the wedding party from [Rec] 3. Soon enough situation deteriorates, with groups of infected roaming the ship and our protagonists trying to find some way out.
World War Z could have been THE ultimate apocalyptic zombie movie, with its source novel’s grand ambitions, budget and scale. But the Brad Pitt vehicle failed to deliver, partly due to rating-related cutting, star-centrism and studio meddling with the ending. So there is a space for a proper zombie horror painted on a very big canvas. With the subtitle Apocalypse, one could expect something spectacular, big, flashy and on a grand scale from the final part of the [Rec] franchise. However, Balagueró from early on stated that the final movie would be done on a similar budget as the previous ones and the focus would be more on story than special effects and hordes of infected, which is quite a shame, because the story in question feels half-baked. There are a few likable characters – Angela, Nick, Guzman, Lucas, but the twists and turns of the plot come across contrived. Situation goes from bad to worse in calculated intervals. One can almost feel the thinking of the scriptwriters (Balagueró and Manu Diez) in certain moments – “ok, what else could possibly go wrong for the characters; what can we throw in to make the circumstances more dire?” Take for example how the infection spreads in the kitchen scene – it looks implausible and breaks the immersion in the plot. The whole movie is peppered with scenes like that. Every time the action gets going, the director comes up with an idea that disrupts the viewing experience because it is too heavy handed and badly written. There is no natural flow to the sequence of events. It feels like just that, more a sequence of events of varying credibility than a proper movie. There are more objections to this side of the film – the research lab on the ship is a military operation, yet nobody seems to be really in charge. Some characters are left wandering through ship’s corridors, while others are taken for the tour meeting everybody on deck.
From the technical point of view [Rec] 4: Apocalypse almost completely abandons the found footage format – there are scenes seen through CCTV and we get glimpses of the recording from Angela’s camera, but that’s it. And while I think it was the right thing to do (just how much longer can holders of the Paranormal Activity franchise churn out exactly same movies just increasing number at the end of the title?), the objective camera exposes the weaknesses of the script. While Plaza went for humor in the previous part, so that a groom decked out in a knight’s armour and a chainsaw wielding bride fit the chosen style, Balagueró‘s entry, starting with the title, suggests a more serious tone. And that somber tone paired with the lack of kinetic camera ultimately betrays the director. This cinematic apocalypse is on a very small scale. It seems that [Rec] 4: Apocalypse is a nod to Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters on one side and Romero’s Day of the Dead on the other. What I personally liked, was dropping the religious angle – a prayer no longer stops the infected, and it turns out that the Vatican was looking for the scientific explanation of the whole thing. Not much gets explained though and there is, of course, window open for continuation, for a proper Armageddon. According to the makers, however, this is the final entry in the series, but ‘final’ has a different meaning in the world of horror franchises, so we will see.
By Grzegorz Roznerski