R: [REC] 4: Apocalypse (2014)

Well, at least I get to continue one of my Hubrisween traditions with the [REC] franchise. As you may recall, the first [REC] was an excellent found footage horror movie, which involved news reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) doing a ride-along with a fire department crew to an apartment building which becomes a hotbed of zombie-ish activity playing out in real time. [REC]² took up almost immediately after the first movie ends, with a SWAT team going into the quarantined building to get a specific blood sample to combat the contagion (along with some idiots breaking in for various reasons but really to keep the cannon fodder quota up). [REC]³ breaks the format – quite literally – 20 minutes or so in, as a new outbreak makes itself known at a lavish wedding.

Writer-directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza collaborated on the first two, then split up for the last two: Plaza handled the wedding, and Balaguero this last chapter. Apocalypse takes place on a freighter which has been quickly transformed into a floating lab and quarantine space. Among the quarantined are our old friend Angela, Guzman (Paco Manzanedo), a Special Forces doctor who managed to rescue Angela from the building before his team blew it up; Lucas (Crispulo Cabezas), the only other survivor from that team, and Mrs. Boda (Maria Alfonsa Rosso), the only survivor from the wedding. They have all tested clean of the contagion, but what exactly the team of scientists (and what the ship’s captain refers to as “their private army”) are doing in the ship’s hold is anybody’s guess. Whatever it is, it’s putting a strain on the ship’s aging generator, causing occasional blackouts.

You don’t suppose that will be significant later on, do you?

The scientists are trying to create an antiviral to combat these outbreaks, which of course means they have to have subjects that are contaminated, right? When someone lets a test subject loose despite numerous security precautions… well, you watch movies. I’m sure you can figure out what happens next.

Yeah, you were right.

Now, [REC]³ had triggered my old zombie movie fatigue, because minus the novelty of the found footage approach, that is what it was: simply another zombie movie. Apocalypse, though, returns to the claustrophobic pressure cooker of the first two movies, and is all the better for it, even cribbing a bit of paranoia from John Carpenter’s The Thing. You get your usual betrayals, acts of cowardice and acts of heroism, all driven forward by bad circumstances: the venture is a succeed-or-die mission, the lifeboats are all disabled, the ship is rigged to explode in case of what happens does, and, oh yeah, we’re in the middle of a Force 8 gale.

Also seemingly jettisoned is the thread running through the first three movies, that the cause is a medical version of demonic possession – in [REC]² a zombie is trapped in a room with a crucifix, and in [REC]³ the zombies are held by a clergyman reading scripture. None of that is present here, and I really kind of miss it. It was different, and I liked it.

But it is a nicely done series ender, and Balaguero and Plaza have both stated that this is indeed the end of the series. I’m thankful they have enough sense to not go the full franchise route (I really don’t need a Twitter war about [REC] Kills five years from now), and that this final chapter was good enough to make me actually care about what happens in a zombie movie.

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