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John’s Horror Corner: REC 4: Apocalypse (2014), a shipwrecked disappointment for this Spanish zombie franchise.

February 21, 2016

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MY CALL: The claustrophobia of the first two films is rendered limp on this ship, the spirit of fun embraced in part 3 (which many disliked) is also missing, and I wasn’t rooting for anyone for the first time in the franchise. Essentially this fourth film has nothing that anyone liked from the earlier films. It isn’t really so bad as a random horror flick. It’s certainly well-acted, has decent special effects and production value, and it made for a breezy entertaining 90 minutes. MORE MOVIES LIKE REC 4: Apocalypse: REC (2007), REC 2 (2009), REC 3: Genesis (2012) and Quarantine (2008)–all of which are MUCH better.

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Our final girl heroine spends pretty much the whole movie in a tank top.  We have an article that focuses on this phenomenon: The Tank Top Horror Film: A Horror Tradition.

Spanish TV reporter Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco; REC) is rescued [picking up from the end of the second REC film] and sequestered for precautionary testing aboard a mobile laboratory on an ocean vessel. Finding herself in restraints, she doesn’t exactly feel “rescued” or safe, nor does she trust her new host.

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This fourth franchise installment frees us from our most effectively isolated landlocked apartment building zombie siege and infected flesh-eating wedding to quarantine us on a ship. With no rescue boats and disabled radio communication, it seems that our militarized team of scientists have not only succeeded at finally isolating the virus behind the zombie epidemic, but also at sealing their own fate should operations go less than smoothly.

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We have plenty of time to get to know our characters but I think we barely sufficiently give a damn about most of them, not nearly as much as with REC 1-3. Parts 1-3 not only laid solid foundation for personable characters, but did so while the urgency level slowly ebbed from completely innocuous happy environments to utter dire terror. Here in part 4 we are dropped into troubled waters immediately and neither we nor our main characters have their guard down for even a moment…not even for a 20-minute introduction during which we’d like for someone to think there was hope. As such, there is no hope that we’ll care what happens to these people and subsequently no hope that we the audience will feel the threat of “Apocalypse” as the title suggests.

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Rather than being well-intentioned, altruistic or optimistic, our scientist-commander is viciously pragmatic and his coldness borders on villainy. This operation is tyrannical by his design and, spoiler alert, all his security provisions will fail. Cue the evil zombie monkeys!!! You heard me: zombie monkeys. Zombie animals alone don’t harm the legitimacy of a horror movie, but the way they are handled here does. They start out cool, then they go overboard.

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Shipmates get infected, the gore and zombie effects are pretty good, and the action is high-paced. I’m entertained. The only problem is that I don’t really care. I’m far less invested in the characters and even though this is not a found footage film, the camera relentlessly shakes during zombie attack scenes (as if the Starship Enterprise got hit by a Klingon photon canon–you know that shake). But the camera is admittedly less shaky than the preposterous story of a ship laboratory that willingly sets its course into a dangerous storm…and they never explain why. This sequel bit off more than it could chew, feels way less credible than parts 1-3, and fell off the deep end into ScyFy channel movie-of-the-week quality.

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The most interesting thing about the story is perhaps the very thing most people will find annoying. In REC 3: Genesis (2012), we were introduced to the notion that this zombie virus had a Biblical origin: demons! This movie builds on that idea and may or may not have borrowed some flavor from The Hidden (1987) and Guillermo del Toro’s parasitic worm zombies in The Strain. This development takes things in a zany direction that provides a solid disservice to its three predecessors.

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This movie isn’t really bad as a random horror flick. It’s certainly well-acted, has decent special effects and production value, and it made for a breezy entertaining 90 minutes. So I’ll give this a weak to moderate recommendation. Fans of the franchise should see it (although I think it offers the least of the four films and will likely disappoint to some extent), zombie fans maybe, and general horror fans could skip it.

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To writer/director Jaume Balagueró (Darkness, REC, REC 2), I must ask: “What happened?” The claustrophobia of the first two films is rendered limp on this ship (more a writing/direction flaw than the setting itself), the spirit of fun embraced in part 3 (which most people disliked for its deliberate drop in intensity) is also missing, and I wasn’t rooting for anyone for the first time in the franchise. Essentially this fourth film has nothing that anyone liked from the earlier films and brought nothing new to the table.

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