So the sequel we've all been waiting for? Back to tight and claustrophobic, to demonic ravenous inhuman zombies, to intense jumps and scares, and to Director Jaume Balagueró, and Manuela Velasco reprieving her central role as investigative reporter, sole survivor, eye candy and where we left her, newly appointed harbinger of death and disease to all of mankind Ángela Vidal. But what about [REC]³? There's no blatant pretence that it didn't happen; there's definite reference to Paco Plaza's slightly lighter, more flippant and expansive wedding shenanigans, but we're under no illusion that back with Balagueró, it's directly back to [REC] and [REC]² both in storyline and a more serious and sombre tone and demeanour.
I personally liked [REC]³. Ok, it was definitely quite the departure from its predecessors and by trying to be a bit more adventurous and accessible, dallying with humour and romance, it certainly lost that aura of stupefying dread and unnatural trepidation that the series had cemented as its own. Yet we can't forget that after the rather weary and formulaic [REC]² the series was in serious danger of falling down to staleness before it had even stretched its legs, and at least [REC]³ injected a shot of adrenalin. [REC]⁴ is back to the formula; the quarantined Barcelona apartment block is now a cranky old tanker far out to sea, the situation the crew find themselves in, full of questions and uncertainty, and once the maelstrom hits, both literally and metaphorically, things descend once again and very quickly to jumps, scares and lots of brutal carnage and dying.
The third person camera has quietly and without fuss, been retained from [REC]³, with no attempt to try and force a narrative that dictates a camera should be kept rolling under the most bewildering of circumstances. [REC]² ended with Ángela receiving the Medeiros slug unbeknown to her SWAT team rescuers, and [REC]⁴ follows straight from this with her transfer to the isolated remote tanker to be prodded and probed by a medical team lead by Dr. Ricarte (Héctor Colomé). Whilst there's nothing too original to the breakout and slide into pandemonium story on offer, Balagueró does manage to recapture that original [REC] mood and tone. The narrative too, flows coherently providing that all important immersive foundation that allows for the intense cat and mouse chases, the desperate backed into the corner fights and frantic decision making, to be exploited with conviction and investment.
The zombies of [REC] don't hold back. Frenetic, vicious, hungry, they're the definition of dangerous. A bite, or ingestion of contaminated flesh and the transition from healthy human to blood crazed maniac is total and quick. They're fast too; 28 Days Later fast, with none of that Romero or The Walking Dead slowness, ponderous or weakness. It doesn't take a horde to present a real problem, just the one, and if not ready with an automatic weapon and a few mates, I'd say the odds of meeting one's grizzly gut ripping end is all but certain. There also seems to be more emphasis on infection, the parasite, death and dare I say it more traditional zombie story, than the religious and ambiguously supernatural preoccupation of the previous outings, and this does somewhat serve to lessen the foreboding atmosphere. The objective is still horror and it still all works, but it's all rather action-horror than unnatural horror-horror, and it's a little bit of a shame. The slimy Medeiros Wrath of Kahn ear-slug alike, just isn't quite up there with eerie, shadowy, spindly and utterly other-worldly Medeiros girl, and the zombies too, are always now kind of where they ought to be, or where they were left, rather than popping up discordantly.
It is a return to the original, it is still a well fashioned roller coaster ride of terror, and yes it's clear the director and team have learnt a lot over the years with a feature richer and more polished. Yet possibly this extra shine; the clearer, less ambiguous narrative and traditional third person [REC]³ camera work, has all somewhat helped to take that something away that made the first truly and astoundingly edgy, and unnerving. [REC] embodied shock and unpredictability and [REC]⁴ is perhaps just that bit too safe; too obvious. It's also all rather disappointing as a conclusion to the enthralling and baffling four part escapade, neither providing any real or satisfying answers, nor any ambiguous or jaw dropping nuke to ponder; the final five minutes rather a damp squib than an edifying bowing out. All this aside, [REC]⁴ is a great zombie horror film, with suspenseful and shocking scenes, some great zombie carnage and pulse pounding action; I just can't help but come away feeling a little short-changed - 7/10.