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“[REC] 4: APOCALYPSE” (TIFF Review)

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When [REC] first debuted back in the ancient days of 2007, Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s found footage zombie horror film was a shot in the arm. In combining two of the most popular horror trends of the era into a single attention-grabbing premise, [REC] was  a wildly intense and impeccably crafted 78-minute blast of terror. [REC] 2 came two years later to build and expand upon the mythology, even daring to switch genres and segue into demonic horror. For some reason Mommy and Daddy decided to split up for the third and fourth chapters and unfortunately, the franchise has never quite been the same.

Note: Minor spoilers lie ahead

The series hasn’t nose-dived, but it’s apparent that part of the magic of the first two movies came from the collaboration of directorial talents. Now, following Plaza’s splatstick [REC] 3: GENESIS, we have Balaguero’s long awaited APOCALYPSE, which brings back characters from all of the movies, subtracts the jokes, and offers plenty of gory horror fun for anyone who followed the franchise until now. Sadly, it’s more obvious than ever that the series peaked with those searing opening chapters, but that’s not the same thing as saying this isn’t worth seeing. Far from it.

Things pick up shortly after the events of [REC] 2, when a collection of Spanish special forces officers burst into a certain iconic building and find longtime protagonist Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco). She was of course the lone survivor of the demon-virus-zombie outbreak. As quickly as we arrived, we’re out. Angela wakes up on a high security quarantine ship in the middle of the ocean. Exactly why she’s there is unclear.

However, so is an elderly woman from [REC] 3 and if you’ve seen the previous films, you can also assume a certain infection found its way there too. After being introduced to a handful of new characters/bodies—including a mysterious scientist and a computer geek Vidal superfan who uploads the first [REC] movie from her camera onto his computer—things go south. The setting is claustrophobic, tensions are high, and blood flows liberally. We’re back in [REC] land people, just with general handheld cinematography substituted for found footage schtick.

The biggest surprise of the film is that Balaguero strips away the demon half of the [REC] mythology almost instantly to focus on the zombie parasite. It’s a bit of a disappointment as the mash-up helped distinguish this franchise from the dozens of other zombie movies out there. But by the time the sense of surprise wears off, so much red stuff is flung about in the name of zombie carnage that it’s hard to complain. Balaguero wastes precious few minutes setting all of his narrative ducks in a row and the bulk of the film’s running time is dedicated to the non-stop, heart-pounding set pieces that we’ve come to love from the series. An inverted motorboat engine delivers the finest splatter of the film, while some crates of infected monkeys serve up a whole new breed of [REC] monster. Balaguero dials back the silliness of the last entry dramatically without ever forgetting that this is a horror romp. The movie is certainly quite fun, if not funny and when the film hits its most insane peaks, it is one hell of a good time.

The return of Manuela Velasco as the much mangled [REC] lead is also a pleasant addition. She’s made the transition from a shrieking heroine to grizzled zombie stomper here and carries the film with ease. Her presence was missed last time around and here proves how crucial she is to the franchise. Balaguero’s shakey-cam aesthetic can be a little overblown at times, but certainly fits the movie well. After the wild and goofy diversion of [REC] 3, this fourquel brings the series back to basics and should remind fans why they fell in love in the first place.

Unfortunately, it’s not a complete and total return to form, but perhaps that was impossible. The first two chapters were products of their time and at the center of the found footage and zombie peaks. You can’t really recreate something that special, but at least Balaguero honors his franchise (though the dark humor and gorehound insanity that Plaza clearly brought to the party is missed at times). If the series ends here, everyone involved can rest easy knowing they’ve done good.

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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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