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Saturday, 7 March 2015

Blu-Ray Review: [.REC]: APOCALYPSE

Welcome Back,

I trust you are all in good health, as we now slowly begin to leave the Winter months behind us and enter into Spring. Today, I am going to review the final film in one of the better, more intelligent horror franchises out there. I hope you enjoy it.

The [.REC] franchise was unleashed on the world, back in 2007, courtesy of Spanish directorial duo Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza. The sequel arrived in 2009, followed by a Prequel in 2012, and this year, we see the final segment.

The franchise follows a TV news reporter, Angela Vidal - played by Manuela Velasco - for her late-night investigative journalism show "While You're Sleeping", in which she focuses on employees who do jobs that run overnight, whilst the rest of the country is asleep. In the original [.REC] film, she arrives at a Fire Station, and goes on a job with a local firehouse crew, to a call to help a woman trapped in her apartment. Once at the house, they encounter the local Police breaking down the woman's apartment door, when she suddenly attacks one of the officers. Meanwhile, the disturbance disrupts other tenants in the block, and soon enough, things go haywire.

What was ground-breaking about the original franchise, was that it dealt with the world of reality TV, and the frequently abused "shaky-cam" tactic that had become abused by so many recent horror films, and put an innovative twist on it, adding into the mix another variation on the zombie/viral infestation genre. Unlike many similar films, the movie's running time, was a short-and-sweet 81 minutes.

After its original release, the film soon gained a much-deserved reputation of being an innovative twist on the "found-footage" genre, and soon became an international success, wherever it was released.

The sequel, continued straight-on from the end of the original flick, and shows what happens to Angela, once word gets out about the mysterious viral outbreak. In many ways, it is to [.REC] what ALIENS (1986, James Cameron) was to its predecessor: a more gung-ho, adrenaline-fuelled action-oriented horror that almost outdid the already phenomenal original.

When it was announced that two more films would be made, and the franchise rested with the release of Part 4, fans were relieved to hear that the franchise was not going to be dragged through the mud, and its reputation destroyed, with endless sequels, like so many other horror franchises have had done to them.

With Part 4 or [.REC]: APOCALYPSE as it is formerly known, the tale comes full-circle, and it's actually a pretty decent conclusion to the series. This UK, Region B Blu-Ray release came out on Monday 2nd March, and I had deliberately avoided reading-up on any previews about it, to make sure I didn't accidentally come across any information that might spoil my enjoyment.

The action starts with the GEO's (Grupo Especial de Operaciones - the Spanish equivalent of the Armed Guard or Homeland Security) from Part 2, desperately seeking to rescue Angela. As they plant bombs around the inside of the block, they are attacked by some of the infected tenants at the apartment block, causing the operation to fail. Guzman (Paco Manzanedo) manages to rescue Angela. We then jump to Angela waking-up on-board a boat, in the middle of the ocean, with medical tests being performed upon her, presumably to make sure she herself is not also infected. Accompanying her, the medical staff, and the crew of the boat, is her camera - which is in a pretty bad state. Thankfully, much of her footage is recoverable. Guzman notices an elderly woman wandering about the boat. She is asking everyone whether they've seen her daughter, or any of the wedding guests. Clearly, she is the only survivor from the third film, but is wholly unaware of what took place their.

She accompanies Guzman and Angela, and they meet the crew. They are told that Angela is "clean", but she soon discovers that she is not the only person on board the boat, being tested. In a closely-guarded medical centre, deep in the bowels of the boat, she leans that some of the infected blood is being tested, to create a vaccine. But the vaccine is still being tested on others - both human and animal - much to shock of the crew. It's not long before something goes hideously wrong, and Angela, Guzman and the rest of the boat are suddenly realising that things are about to get very crowded in here!

At 96 minutes, this is the longest of the films, but it's surprisingly good. Despite the title, and the original intention, there is no true Apocalyptic event of any kind. Balaguero has gone on record, stating that due to the low-budget nature of all four [.REC] films - roughly 1.5 Million Euros for the first and 5.6 Million for the second, with Parts 3 and 4 being made for not much more each - undertaking a complete, national or global crisis with thousands of infected people would have been impossible to do, without resorting to poorly-created CGI (something I wrote about in my review of DEAD SNOW 2 - which can be read   here  if you wish.) or utilising thousands of extras and a lot of special effects. So, it was decided that this final film would only use the themes of an "apocalypse" in the broadest sense of the term.

To be fair, that is fine with me. Of course it would have been amazing, to see what might have happened, had the virus infected most of Spain, or possibly, the rest of the world's population, but I think the resulting film would have been significantly weaker for it. As it stands, this final part of the franchise, retains the gutsy claustrophobia of the original, whilst including just enough action to keep it from getting boring.

The first death, doesn't occur until about 33 minutes into the film, but trust me. It's a really gruelling sequence, when you see what happens, and to whom! So be prepared!

For the most part, the film zips along, at a pretty punchy pace! Whilst I would have liked a little more gore and grue, as per the first three films, Part 4 still delivers a couple of nasty deaths, that will be appreciated by horror fans, but you will be left wanting a few more. In many ways, the film is a little too restrained with the gore. Whether that's due to budgetary reasons, or lack of time, I don't know, but this is not the darkest or nastiest part of the series.

That said, the one thing you will note, is how reminiscent and unintentionally similar it is to the afore-mentioned ALIENS. I won't say the film plagiarises it, but there are a lot of moments that come mightily close to being so similar, that you wonder if Balaguero wasn't heavily influenced by it, to the point of plagiarism. Those of you who have seen [.REC]: APOCALYPSE, will know what I mean. Those of you who will see it, will soon spot the similarities in the final 20 minutes or so.

It's not a bad thing to be similar to another film. However, you do feel that the similarities are bordering so close, that you will be left with a nagging feeling, that the ending is too similar.

This is a shame, because the film wraps-up most of the franchise's plot-lines quite well. It's a solid film. Not a breakout hit, by any means, and you may not rewatch it for many years, but it is a solid genre hit. Not brilliant, but by no means is it a wasted purchase/rental.

If you enjoyed the first two, then you will enjoy this final part. Stay-tuned through the early parts of the end-credits, as the film includes a small coda, that hints at something more. It's not a flawed way to end the film, but it gives the creators' the potential chance to return to this franchise once more, at some point in the future, if they should wish too. As much as a [.REC] 5 would be fun, I really do believe, it would be better to leave [.REC]: APOCALYPSE be the end of it!

The UK Blu-Ray contains just one extra: a 30-minute "Making Of", which is fun, but I would have liked to have heard more from the directors, and Manuela Velasco herself, about working on this franchise, and their own views on what they liked (or disliked) about the final film. The picture quality is, much like the film itself: solid, stable, dependable, without ever being anything more than that. There are two soundtrack choices: Spanish DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio, or Spanish Dolby Digital Stereo HD Master Audio, both of which do a good job, though there's nothing here that's going to make you go "wow" during your viewing. The accompanying English subtitles are removeable, if you wish to see the film purely in Spanish, but being in white, during the early parts of the film, they can occasionally be harder to read. This is because the film has quite a bleached, almost monochrome look to it in the first half. So white subtitles on a white/grey-white image, means the viewer occasionally strains to read them. There was only one noticeable error, in the subtitles I noted, but nothing that should harm your enjoyment in any significant factor.

Overall, this is an enjoyable horror film, and a fun and entertaining end to the series. It's by no means the best of the series, or even the best way to end it, but it shouldn't give most fans too much to complain about. Recommended.

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