Film Review: ‘[REC] 4: Apocalypse’

After an underwhelming third chapter, this Spanish horror franchise largely bounces back.

Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Hector Colome, Ismael Fritschi, Crispulo Cabezas, Mariano Venancio, Maria Alfonsa Rosso, Carlos Zabala, Cristian Aquino, Emilio Buale, Paco Obregon, Javier Laorden.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1649443/

After stumbling with its third entry, Filmax’s horror series is more or less back on track with “[REC] 4: Apocalypse.” Picking up where the first sequel ended — with a desultory nod to “[REC] 3’s” underwhelming wedding-party digression — this supposedly final though none-too-conclusive chapter is fast-paced and entertaining, if not especially scary. It should do good biz in territories already infected by the earlier fright pics. International theatrical rollouts begin Oct. 30 after fest preems at Toronto and Sitges.

After army doctor Guzman (Paco Manzanedo) and soldier Lucas rescue TV reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) from the apartment building where the viral outbreak of “[REC]” and its immediate follow-up occurred, they all find themselves at sea on a ship that’s been commandeered as a temporary quarantine. (Also aboard is Maria Alfonso Rosso as a little-old-lady wedding guest who slept through the third film’s massacre, and thus was the only person to survive it.)

But the extremely tight security, heavily armed guards and omnipresent surveillance camera suggest something more is going on. Indeed, humorous Dr. Ricarte (Hector Colome) has set up a top-secret lab in the hold, where he is attempting to isolate the contagion which our protagonists miraculously managed to avoid, and which is communicated by attacks from victims who’ve turned into fast-moving zombie-type ghouls.

Needless to say, the contagion doesn’t stay isolated for long, as someone lets a carrier escape from the lab. Bloody mayhem quickly descends, with the question remaining of who is currently the “host” to the parasite that is the source of all this. Our protags find themselves struggling to stay alive on a ship swarming with the demonically and/or virally possessed, joined by hardiest crew member Nick (Ismael Fritschi), a schlubby starstruck fan of Angela’s.

Directed by Jaume Balaguero (co-helmer of the first two pics with Paco Plaza, who directed the third solo), “[REC] 4” mostly abandons its predecessors’ found-footage format with slick, tight results, even if the nautical setting just isn’t as creepy as the old urban residence of the original. A major source of tension in the earlier chapters was the fear that this mysterious plague would reach the general population, but despite the suggestive “Apocalypse” subtitle, here we’re in an even more contained setting where that possibility can be controlled. It’s also somewhat disappointing that the pic does little to advance any quasi-scientific, quasi-supernatural explanations of what the parasite is, where it came from or what it wants. Strangely, much ado is made about a big storm approaching, yet when it arrives, it has no real impact on proceedings.

As a result, the pic doesn’t seem like much of an ending for the franchise, and the fadeout leaves the door wide open for future installments. Still, as pure panicky action in a claustrophobic setting goes, “[REC] 4: Apocalypse” is an efficient entertainment. Design and tech aspects are all solidly pro.

Film Review: '[REC] 4: Apocalypse'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 11, 2014. Running time: 92 MIN. (Original title: "[REC] 4: Apocalipsis")

Production: (Spain) A Filmax Entertainment presentation in association Castelao Pictures and Rec Apocalypse AIE. (International sales: Filmax Intl., Barcelona.) Produced by Julio Fernandez. Executive producers, Julio Fernandez, Carlos Fernandez, Adria Mones, Laura Fernandez.

Crew: Directed by Jaume Balaguero. Screenplay, Manu Diez, Belaguero. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Pablo Rosso; editor, Guillermo de la Cal; music, Arnau Alvarino; production designer, Javier Alvarino; costume designer, Marian Coromina; sound (Dolby Digital), Xavi Mas; sound designer, Oriol Tarrago; re-recording mixer, Marc Orts; effects makeup designers, David Ambiut, Lucia Salanueva; digital effects supervisor, Alex Villagrasa; assistant director, Fernando Sanchez-Izquierdo; casting, Cristina Campos.

With: Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Hector Colome, Ismael Fritschi, Crispulo Cabezas, Mariano Venancio, Maria Alfonsa Rosso, Carlos Zabala, Cristian Aquino, Emilio Buale, Paco Obregon, Javier Laorden.

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