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Q&A: “[REC] 4: APOCALYPSE” Director Jaume Balagueró and Star Manuela Velasco

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Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s 78-minute 2007 scorcher [REC] just might have been the finest found-footage film and the most terrifying zombie movie to arrive on screens in the 2000s. The dual directors decided to split up for the last two films in the resulting franchise, with Balagueró bringing back original star Manuela Velasco for the latest entry, [REC] 4: APOCALYPSE.

Balagueró’s solo [REC] effort, in theaters and on VOD and iTunes today from Magnet Releasing (and reviewed here), is a franchise capper that should put the whole thing to bed once and for all. Balagueró and Plaza followed up their instant cult hit with [REC] 2 (2009), which arguably topped the original. More genres were stirred into the pot, with action and demon/exorcism twists, and somehow the duo made it all work even better than before. This film seemed to mark the end of the story, but as with any horror film that breaks out internationally, you just can’t stop the sequel cycle. In 2012, Plaza delivered the zom-rom-com prequel [REC] 3: GENESIS, which only partially utilized the found-footage gimmick, and now [REC] 4 (scripted by Balagueró and [REC] 2 co-writer Manu Díez) drops the conceit entirely while returning beleaguered/heroic TV reporter Angela (Velasco) to the spotlight.

Finally out of the possessed building that housed the first two entries, Angela finds herself on an equally claustrophobic oil tanker, surrounded by burly military men and paranoid scientists trying to get to the bottom of the apocalyptic epidemic. Not surprisingly, things don’t go well; there are even zombie monkeys this time (never a good sign). It’s a satisfying franchise-finisher that puts the series to bed in style, and when [REC] 4: APOCALYPSE premiered as part of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness program last fall, FANGORIA got a chance to chat with the director and star.

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FANGORIA: Were you surprised that the [REC] films became cult favorites in North America?

MANUELA VELASCO: Are they very popular? I thought they weren’t available at all. I thought only QUARANTINE [the Hollywood remake of the first [REC]] was available. People looked for the original? That’s exciting.

JAUME BALAGUERÓ: I knew some people knew about [REC], but I never thought it was popular.

VELASCO: That’s great!

FANG: Did you two discuss making this final movie during the production of [REC] 2?

BALAGUERÓ: No, no. After [REC] 2, we didn’t think there were going to be more [REC] movies. Then one day [he and Plaza] decided to make to make two more, one directed by him and one by me. He did his first one without me. During that time, I made another movie [SLEEP TIGHT] completely separate from [REC]. Then I started to struggle with where to go with [REC] 4. Eventually, I decided just to take off right from the end of [REC] 2, following the journalist [who’s been the central character] from the very beginning of the series. Then I started to fantasize about taking these movies to a different time, a different place and even a different genre. To do something really different, but at the same time faithful to the earlier films. Something different and unexpected, but still consistent.

FANG: Why did you and Plaza decide to split up for those two movies?

VELASCO: Can I answer for you [laughs]?

BALAGUERÓ: [Laughs] No, no. It’s OK. Just because we had other projects we were working on. When we decided to make [REC] 3: GENESIS and [REC] 4: APOCALYPSE, I was involved in another project at the time. I was writing and preparing that movie, so Paco went off on his own and made the third film, and I always knew I would be back for this one.

VELASCO: They had been working together forever, even before the original.

BALAGUERÓ: Yes, we had another movie before [REC].

VELASCO: I can tell you, they got along really well together and are so fun to work with as a team. They have a great creative relationship, but you can understand how after three films, it gets tough. So many years!

BALAGUERÓ: Yes, three films, but not continuously. The first one was a documentary [OT: LA PELÍCULA] we made many years ago. Then [REC] and [REC] 2. Working together is great, because we are very close friends and have fun together. But at the same time, it’s very hard. As a director, sometimes you have to reject something you like very much for the other person. That can get difficult, but it’s not a major problem. That’s what made us a very interesting team. But it’s still hard, for him and for me. It’s OK to separate. It’s good for both of us.

FANG: Manuela, were you happy to come back to the series after so many years?

VELASCO: Yes, of course.

FANG: You got to be an action hero this time, too.

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VELASCO: [Laughs] Yeah, I want to see that! I haven’t seen the movie yet, and everyone keeps telling me I’m an action hero. I don’t know. It’s going to be fun to see.

FANG: You didn’t feel that way while you were making it?

VELASCO: I felt more like a survivor. That was one of the best parts of the whole [REC] saga. They didn’t put heroes in the building; they put in normal people who have to survive, but they don’t know how. They don’t know how to fight. They don’t know how to shoot. They don’t know how to do anything. They just do it. I think that’s why the first one was so scary. You weren’t seeing obvious hero archetypes. You just saw normal people who you could believe in and live next to. In this one, it’s true that my character has been through a lot of things in a short period of time. She’s seen a lot and learned a lot about how to survive. Still, she doesn’t quite know how to make it through until it happens.

It’s funny, we had a little chat about that at the beginning of the shoot. I had been preparing physically, because I knew it was going to be hard. On the first day, I had to climb up a ladder and I was in good shape, so I ran right up. Then Jaume told me, “It looks too easy for you. You’re doing it effortlessly, and it shouldn’t look that way. You aren’t a soldier. You are just a girl who is trapped.” So if I look like an action hero, I don’t know if that’s good!

FANG: Well, it just feels that way compared to your previous two movies. It’s not like you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger all of a sudden.

VELASCO: [Laughs] OK, good!

BALAGUERÓ: I wanted to have her start as a journalist and gradually grow into something more—to uncover a mystery and learn how to fight. Then by the end, she becomes an action hero. That’s what we wanted: the growth into a hero. The audience has to see that transformation to buy it.

FANG: What made you settle on the boat setting?

BALAGUERÓ: Well, of course we wanted to leave the building. It was time to go out [laughs]. But at the same time, it was important to keep the sense of claustrophobia. That was so crucial to the style of the first two movies. So, I thought a boat was the perfect way to keep that sense and also show new environments, new atmosphere and new types of horror.

FANG: How did you find getting drenched by the giant water tanks when things get out of control on the boat?

VELASCO: [Sighs deeply] It was amazing, because we shot the film in the Canary Islands, which is very tropical and beautiful. So hot and pretty. Then when we used those water tanks, they decided to shoot it in November in a studio up north. Very cold. Why [laughs]?! We had a really hard time, all of us. Especially me, because I was in the water and freezing and I had to keep doing it over and over.

BALAGUERÓ: That was really horrible. It was painful for all the actors. And for [the filmmaking team], it was very stressful and challenging.

VELASCO: It was a shame, though, because I normally love the water. But it was so, so cold, and we would shoot from about 5 p.m. until 8 in the morning the next day. I remember sometimes around 4 in the morning, I couldn’t even move. Do you remember that?

BALAGUERÓ: [Bashful] …Yes.

VELASCO: I couldn’t swim or move or talk anymore. I was just frozen. The water, I loved. I would even love to do it again. Just in a warm place [laughs]!

FANG: So, why zombie monkeys?

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VELASCO: [Laughs] Good question.

BALAGUERÓ: Well, because we wanted to use another character, another monster. Monkeys are of course the animals they use for the most experiments and research. At the same time, they could be very aggressive, scary, fast and unexpected. So we had to do it. They were too good.

VELASCO: So there are monkeys in the film now? We didn’t have them while we were filming [laughs]. They were all CGI.

BALAGUERÓ: We had one puppet, actually. Animatronic.

VELASCO: That’s right! It was amazing, too. So cool to work with.

FANG: Why did you decide to tone down the demon/possession element in this movie?

BALAGUERÓ: Well, the doctors on the boat are researching the cause of the disturbance. There are two approaches to the issue. There’s the church’s approach with demons, which we’ve seen, and now we’re seeing the scientific approach. It’s something different. It’s a virus, and they want to discover its origin. I like that fight between the church and science. It’s reality, and happens all the time. In this fourth movie, we suddenly discover the real thing: this parasite. But I wanted to leave it all with a question. The demon could be this parasite. It might not be as simple as it seems. Who knows? It could be everything all at once. It could be an alien, a virus, a parasite, a demon or the devil. I don’t know!

FANG: Could there be another sequel where we find out?

BALAGUERÓ: No. This is it. That’s the end.

FANG: Finally, I’m curious: Did either of you see QUARANTINE?

VELASCO: No. I couldn’t do it.

BALAGUERÓ: I did.

FANG: What did you think? That must have been odd.

VELASCO: He showed me some of it once. We were at a film festival with [REC] 2. He pulled up his laptop and started playing me a scene. I said, “Yeah, I know. That’s [REC]. I’ve seen it a thousand times. Why are we watching this?” He said, “No, look—it’s not you.” I was shocked. The shots were exactly the same. It wasn’t a remake. It was a photocopy. But I really liked the actress [Jennifer Carpenter]. I’m a big fan of hers. So I thought, “Wow, she’s doing it. She’s doing—“

BALAGUERÓ: “—well!”

VELASCO: [Laughs] Yes, she did well. So that was nice. But it was weird. It took a second to even realize it was not our film. Did you like it?

FANG: Not really. I didn’t understand what the point of that remake was when you guys did it so perfectly the first time.

BALAGUERÓ: Thank you!

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About the author
Phil Brown

Phil Brown is a journalist, writer, and wiseacre who rattles his
keyboard from somewhere in Toronto. He writes about film and comedy
for a variety of websites/publications like Fangoria (duh!), Now
Magazine, The Toronto Star, Comics And Gaming Magazine, Toro, Critics
Studio, and others. He’s also been known to whip up the occasional
comedy sketch or short film. If you feel like being friends, go ahead
and find him. He doesn’t bite (much).

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