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REC 4: Apocalypse moves away from the entertaining but divisive style of the franchise’s third installment. REC 3: Genesis showed us what would happen to a big wedding if it got crashed by zombies, and was a fairly satisfying romp but a move away from the serious tone of the first two movies. Well, those who complained have sort-of got their wish as REC 4 is a po-faced horror film set on a military vessel in the middle of the ocean. There’s not much in the way of humour here, except for a middle-aged fatso radio controller who is obsessed with chocolate bars and doesn’t know how to talk to women (but who’s supposed to be sympathetic). Sophisticated stuff.

REC 4 starts in the immediate aftermath of the second film, and there is some quite fast-paced and compelling action as armed police search the ill-fated building. This section is short-lived, however, as the story quickly moves on to the boat where we spend the next ninety minutes. The few surviving people who have been exposed to the infection are quarantined here with a bunch of military personnel and a few creepy scientists. Unfortunately, the film fails to build any interest in its story, or tension or suspense about the fate of the people on board. This is unfortunate, as the weird melding of religious imagery and iconography with familiar zombie tropes was one of the more curious, distinctive and frankly scary things about the first film, but it’s more or less forgotten in REC 4.

An outbreak starts once some infected monkeys get loose (seriously, who thought bringing a bunch of monkeys on board and infecting them would be a good idea?) and gradually people start dying. You know how it works. None of the characters are remotely likable or interesting, so it’s hard to care too much about their inevitable fates. Highlights include a demented old lady who asks for biscuits and an omelette. The zombies also just tend to come sprinting out of nowhere, and then suddenly fill an area, meaning there is no sense of space being controlled and no sense of reality or tension whatsoever. It’s thoughtlessly done and really stupid.

The film marks the return of Manuela Velasco playing Angela Vidal, the reporter from the first film. She is the main character here as those affected by the initial outbreak are kept under quarantine. The first REC film was released in 2007, and this final film came out about seven years later, meaning Velasco looks significantly older here. The character has been through a lot, but even so, the script should probably have addressed this explicitly. In the era of HD movies every wrinkle is visible, and trying to cover up ageing with makeup just doesn’t work anymore.

Velasco is still probably the most appealing actor, and a distinct improvement on the meathead who plays Guzman. He’s the ‘good’ scientist on board this ship where they are injecting monkeys with the virus and carrying out cruel experiments on survivors like Velasco. Whatever. His performance is terrible and the script is just as bad; someone alludes to him having ‘lots of experience in outbreaks’, but there’s not really anything else in the film which bears this out. It’s indicative of a terribly shallow and perfunctory plot.

It’s a shame the REC franchise petered out like this, as the first film was really quite good, and even the third film was fairly entertaining. One of the problems with crap sequels is that they can taint the franchise-forming entries, and I think there is a bit of that here. One to avoid.