The four-part Spanish horror [REC] series has proven to be strongest when it sticks to being more of the same rather than deviating too much in tone or palm-sweating tension. After co-directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza put viewers through the wringer with 2007’s claustrophobic, scary-as-hell [REC] and 2010’s superior [REC] 2, Plaza branched off from his partner for the third, 2012’s often inventively gory but ineffectively jokey parallel sequel [REC] 3: Génesis, with less successful results. For [REC] 4 (or [REC] 4: Apocalypse as it’s also being titled), Balagueró gets the chance to direct, co-writing the script with Manu Díez ([REC] 2), and his solo effort can be thought of as the Aliens to the first two films being like Alien. It can be a double-edged sword that Balagueró does little to bring a fresh arc to this fourth film, but sometimes, what is reliable can be more than enough.
Whereas [REC] 3: Génesis strayed from the bleak terror of the first two and took a break from the first-person verité-style aesthetic, director Jaume Balagueró also goes for a more standard, if still jittery and pretty dynamic, shooting style and picks back up with TV reporter Ángela Vidal’s survival story. Due to the outbreak close to Barcelona, an oil tanker has set sail to ensure total isolation. Surviving with no memory of what happened in the six hours she was trapped in that quarantined city apartment building, Ángela (Manuela Velasco) breaks out of the infirmary aboard the high-security ocean liner from being examined. According to Dr. Ricarte (Héctor Colomé), who’s in charge of medical protocol, she is not infected with the virus, but footage of the reporter being fed the worm-like parasite might point to otherwise. Angela is joined by Army doctor Guzmán (Paco Manzanedo), who rescued Angela in the building and found the news camera, soldier Lucas (Críspulo Cabezas) and genial surveillance whiz—and Angela’s number one fan—Nick (Ismael Fritschi). Rallying together, they all want answers, but none of that matters after all hell breaks loose and the raving infected run amok.
There is a brief mention of the wedding massacre in [REC] 3: Génesis—the bride’s confused mother-in-law is also its only survivor aboard the ship—but for the most part, this presumably final entry concludes the original narrative, or at least points to an end. Most of the attacks by the infected elicit the expected jolts to take the viewer aback, and a bit involving a monkey ambushing the ship’s cook in his kitchen adds a nasty hint of “Gremlins.” Not to forget, there’s a terrific splatter moment with a trusty motor that ensues after a character falls out of a crawlspace and screams, “Monkeys!”
[REC] 4 may not put itself in the vein of the first two installments (which, back to back, would make a perfectly nightmarish double feature at home), but as a visceral, relentlessly paced stormy-sea ride that, despite this being in a long-running horror sub-genre of virus movies, still boasts some awesomely gnarly effects, it works like a flesh-ripping charm.
[REC] 4 is now in select theaters and available on video-on-demand platforms.