Seven years is a long time to handle a series of four films, but that's exactly how long it took Plaza and Balaguero to bring [Rec] to its (temporary?) conclusion. The fourth instalment in the series ([Rec] 4: Apocalipsis) has finally found its way to the masses, eager to unleash its Spanish zombie horde for one final, explosive finale. The film delivers in spades, though people expecting the unexpected might end up with a serious hangover as Balaguero plays it safe.
Back in 2007, [Rec] was something truly special. A zombie film from Spain fully embracing the found footage style, that was something nobody had even seen before. [Rec] 2 built upon that same premise, going for the traditional bigger and bolder sequel approach. The third and fourth film were announced simultaneously, with the added twist that both films would be solo projects. Plaza helmed [Rec] 3 Genesis, adding a dose of humor to the mix. Balaguero was responsible for the fourth film, taking the series back to its roots.
Fans of the first two films will immediately notice Balaguero dropped the found footage style for a more traditional style of filming. There's still no lack of shaky cams and manic camera action, but Balaguero stopped wasting time on trying to explain where the actual footage came from. The switch isn't entirely successful, but at least it differentiates [Rec] 4 from the millions of cheaply produced found footage films that have swamped the marketplace.
The film also moved away from the apartment building setting, opting for a little sea adventure instead. The survivors of the apartment complex (paired up with one wedding survivor) have been put in quarantine, undergoing several tests to verify if they are infected with the virus. When everything appears to be fine, the survivors are set free to roam the boat. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that things won't stay calm for very long.
Even though Pablo Rosso proved himself a worthy cinematographer in the first three films, I wasn't 100% convinced by his work here. The shaky cam sequences just aren't up too par compared to the first two films. There's a fine line between showing just enough at just the right time and sloppy shaky cam camera work and Rosso regularly misses the mark. The rest of the film looks fine though, I just wished the zombie/action bits were shot a little better.
The soundtrack too is lacking when laid next to the previous films. Not so much the music itself, but the extra layer of tension created by the muted and distorted sound effects is mostly absent here. Now whenever a zombie attacks, there's a sudden burst of noise, but that's about it. The actual music is decent enough but hides too much in the background. For a horror flick that's somewhat of a missed opportunity.
Manuela Velasco rejoins the cast for this fourth instalment. It's good seeing her again, though it's kind of obvious that the make up artists had a hard time covering up the 7 years that passed between the first film and this one. Considering the short timespan that sits between the events in the film (all of the story happens within the same week), it's just a little awkward. Ismael Fritschi (think a Spanish Dan Fogler) is a nice addition and provides some comic relief without being too obvious, the rest of the cast is somewhat interchangeable but good enough for the job.
Moving the setting to a boat on open sea works both for and against Rec 4.On the one hand it's a little random, just a different (yet very convenient) destination to keep things fresh, but not at all related to the original Rec universe. On the other hand it does avoid staleness from setting in. Returning to the original setting might have been fun for about five minutes, but they would've ended up with exactly the same film all over again (and we've already had that sequel).
I always assumed Rec 4 was going to be the last film in the series, but Balaguero didn't really wrap things up after all, leaving plenty of room for possible sequels to come. The fourth film borrowed some comedy elements from Plaza's film, kept the action touch from the second one and moved everything to the open sea. It's not a very surprising nor original film, but the quality is still there and once things get going it's one hell of a roller coaster.