Whether concerning a ship or a movie franchise, course correction is terribly important – head too far in the wrong direction and you’ll end up with a literal boat load of angry passengers who’ll complain that the destination wasn’t one they signed up for when they boarded.
Before I mix my nautical metaphors up too much, let’s sink our teeth into the meat of the matter – after the cold-sweat chills of the found footage, zombie, survival horror of the first two [REC] movies were embraced by fans impressed by the stark terror and no nonsense visuals, [REC]³: Genesis was considered a massive disappointment. Taking the form of a barely related zombie outbreak at a wedding across town from the original infection zone it not only awkwardly dropped the found footage gimmick twenty minutes in but it also picked up some oddly placed humor for a franchise that, until then, had been as serious as a shart during a best man speech.
However, as the orginal directing duo, Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró had split to make the third and fourth sequels respectively, it was down to the latter to bring the series home the way the fans wanted: very bloody scary.
After her ordeal in a Barcelonan apartment building, hapless reporter Ángela Vidal is finally rescued by a military force that storms the building to lay charges to end the demonic possession/zombie infestation once and for all, but like everybody else who has entered that building, they are set upon by screeching ghouls. Awaking a little while later; Ángela and two other survivors from demolition team awake to find themselves quarantined aboard a boat far out to sea under the watch of the determined Dr. Ricarte who is desperately trying to find a cure for zombism (is that a word?) that isn’t a double tap to the head. Lucas and Guzman – the two special forces guys – and Ángela (not to mention an old lady who survived [REC]³) bond after all receiving a negative result for any trace of the virus and go on to befriend the ship’s crew, but when Ricarte mysteriously continues to deny them their freedom they begin to get suspicious.
It turns out that to get a working cure, a sample of the original carrier’s blood is needed and as that original carrier was Tristana Medeiros – a terrifying, shockingly emaciated woman in nappys that had her head blown off back in Barcelona – Ricarte is having technicians try to salvage Ángela’s camera to get a reconstruction of events. However, what we already know from the climax of [REC]² is that Ángela herself is the new host of the demonic parasite thingy that is the cause of this whole mess – or is she? Certain facts simply won’t add up and before any more time can be spent figuring things out, a full blown outbreak occurs among the crew thanks to a possessed monkey infecting dinner. Simultaneously trying to stay alive while trying to carry out their various agendas, the survivors switch allegiances like most people change their status update – but the question still remains; who is the current host of the infection and what is their plan?
So, to start us off, by the simple fact alone that it finally continues the main story of the [REC] franchise, [REC]⁴ is the superior entry of the last two movies – but that doesn’t actually mean it’s actually a better film. Continuing the thread of ditching the found footage thing entirely, the movie lacks that raw tension the first two movies and despite some neat flourishes, is pretty much a standard, post 28 Days Later zombie romp.
So let’s go over the good shit first and as I mentioned before, [REC]⁴’s ace in the hole is a long overdue sense of closure – sort of. I mean, you rarely get any real closure with a horror sequel, do you? But at least the main thread of the demon/parasite and its relationship with the long suffering Ángela reaches a conclusion, even if the details getting there are somewhat muddled. If the parasite apparently jumped ship (pun intended) back in Barcelona, why is there a scene showing that she has something pushing under the skin of her belly when she’s on the ship?
Aside from the filmmakers tripping over their own continuity, the movie is pretty fast paced and the zombies themselves – while still the sprinting, slobbering creatures we’re familiar with – have had an apparent upgrade with the virus obtaining a new strain which is transferred via a monkey bite. This not only gives the infected more of jutting overbite look than before (which admittedly makes them look more like the creatures from 1985’s Demons than that of the regular undead) but it also introduces us to the rather out-of-place concept of zombie monkeys which leads to some unintentional laughs when they meet the buzzing business end of a boat propeller.
The cast gamely hurl themselves through the dark, cramped, strobe-lit corridors of the ship as if they’re in an Alien movie and while [REC]⁴ isn’t dull, it is disappointingly derivative and frustratingly opts not to explore the demonic possession aspect of the second film, but to even dilute the concept a fair bit. What was a fascinating handbrake turn of a twist before is now sort of cast aside without much of a thought – is the worm-like thing a demon or a parasite (or even a demonic parasite)? The film seems not to care much anymore and drops a lot of the more overtly supernatural tricks previously seen like the host using it’s zombie spawn to speak through like a fucked up tannoy or being able to change it’s voice to fool people.
Is there’s a common thread running though both [REC]³ and [REC]⁴ it’s that both Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró seem to be already done with their franchise, are just finishing things off so people would stop bugging them for an ending and can’t even be bothered to adhere to their own continuity if makes the story simpler to crack.
Maybe I’m being too harsh and expecting a movie franchise to break the mold a couple more times is asking too much – but I was kind of hoping [REC]’s big finish would finish bigger instead of being just another zombie flick with a cool setting.
Less the essential release we were all hoping for, the franchise’s long awaited climax is merely more for [REC]reational use…
*pushes [EJECT] button*