[REC]⁴ Apocalypse (2014)     ★★

[REC] 4: Apocalypse is the third sequel to the popular Spanish zombie horror film [REC], which, along with 2007’s other notable found footage release, Paranormal Activity, arguably helped kickstart the genre out of the direct-to-video wasteland it had been languishing in, and into the mainstream. It spawned an American remake called Quarantine, starring Jennifer Carpenter, and opened doors for films like Cloverfield, which paved the way for the filmmaking approach to influence other genres, most recently with 2014’s kiddie sci-fi film Earth To Echoand the natural disaster spectacle Into The Storm. It is surprising then, that director Jaume Balagueró, who has helmed all but the third installment, opted to forego the gimmick which has been a staple of the series, and shoot purely in the third person.

Admittedly, it does work better. Found footage films generally restrict the perspective to whichever character is holding the camera, and hamstring a director’s ability to develop the story. The first two [REC] films suffered because of this, forced as they were to only showing things caught by a reporter’s television camera, soldier’s helmet cams, and amateur civilians. A half hour into the third film the found footage cam is destroyed, and from that point on, and throughout the fourth the gimmick is completely ignored. The result is much more freedom to move around, which might seem counterproductive to a story that takes place entirely on an ocean liner, where the reporter and only survivor from the infectious zombie virus that turns its victims into rabid, bloodthirsty monsters in the previous films has now been quarantined so a group of scientists can develop an antidote. But in trading the verticality of the tenement building in the first two films for the horizontal liner, Balagueró’s constantly moving camera takes great advantage of pushing forward and pulling back, and side scrolling down its long corridors.

Unfortunately the story and characters are typically underdeveloped for genre fare such as this. Manuela Velasco returns as the television reporter, and is thankfully given a much more active role towards the end, as she tries to survive a ship full of rabid zombies, but it’s too little too late, as she is practically silent the entire first hour while the crew members and scientists are deliberately established very slowly, along with a tensionless build-up towards another victim zero, which is much more in aid of Balagueró’s wheel-spinning than sowing the seeds of a coherent narrative. And that insistence on withholding the horror everyone is waiting for, along with an inability to fill the void with engaging characters and storylines has been his problem throughout this series. Additionally, fans of the franchise may be turned off by the fact that the evolving M.O. behind the virus is completely abandoned, leaving the bitter taste of discontinuity to linger once the credits roll.

Points [REC] 4: Apocalypse loses in originality it gains by abandoning the gimmick of found footage, but it sadly wallows with the same stock of underdeveloped characters, leaving the film surprisingly not any worse than its predecessor that started it all, but also not any better.

The Verdict: Pan

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