Quarantine (2008)
By: Julian on December 20, 2008  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Jennifer Carpenter, Jay Hernandez, Steve Harris, Johnathon Schaech, Columbus Short
Writer: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Country: USA
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Quarantine is a remake, and one churned out in record time – its source material, the Spanish film [Rec], was released in 2007, and was recognised as being one of the better foreign horror films since the Japanese put the genre into something of a renaissance. I haven't seen [Rec], so I managed to enter Quarantine without knowing what the film was about, nor carrying any anti-remake misgivings. How much you value this review, then, depends on how you want to see a movie like Quarantine – according to most reports, this sticks pretty close to the original movie, not adding anything unique. So what's the point? Snippets like that, commonplace online, make me really regret not having seen [Rec] first (similarly, I caught the Funny Games redux before Haneke's blistering original). As it stands though, Quarantine is a rollicking action horror movie, but a touch nauseating to watch on the big screen owing to some Cloverfieldesque POV camerawork.

Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter) and Scott (Steve Harris) are shooting a news report segment chronicling the night shift of a fire station in Los Angeles. Amid the awkward banter (very similar to Cloverfield in this respect, not sure how [Rec] compares – terrible acting as we wallow through playful sexual tension and harassment as the blokes fumble about in the presence of the fairer sex), Angela and Scott are introduced to the two blokes they'll be tailing for the night – Fletcher (Schaech, fresh off his aim-low-score-lower classic Prom Night '08) and Jake (Jay Hernandez).

Before long, the four are called out to an apartment block for a "medical emergency" ("little known fact", Fletcher explains in the situation's set-up earlier in the film, "most firefighters are paramedics"). The landlord and two cops, James and Danny, meet them at the door and initial reports are sketchy: a woman, identified as the elderly Mrs Espinoza (bit of trivia: Mrs Espinoza is Jeannie Epper, stunt-lady extraordinaire whose credits include Lindsay Wagner's double for The Bionic Woman). They head upstairs and Mrs Espinoza is in a pretty bad way – as in, a "bad way" of the drooling, bleeding, growling variety. And if that didn't give away the weirdness that was about to rear it's ugly head, the slight Mrs Espinoza ripping out a chunk of James' throat with her teeth surely would.

Things go pear-shaped very quickly and the team soon discover that there's no way out – police have cordoned off all exits, erected a tarpaulin to block windows, and positioned snipers to unceremoniously take out any civilian (or emergency officers) trying to exit. Communications have been scrambled and shut down – the building is a complete no-go zone and no one, not even the cops, have the foggiest why. A very staticky television broadcast that one of the residents manages to decipher has a sombre police chief being broadcast saying, "everyone in the building has been evacuated". Things are looking very, very dire for the tenants, and the firefighters and police desperately try to keep things from spiralling out of control.

As the night unfolds, Mrs Espinoza's symptoms – frothing at the mouth, blood from orifices and an implacable anger – begin to emerge in some of the other residents. One resident, Lawrence, is a vet, and he diagnoses the victims with a very rapid, mutated form of rabies. Meanwhile, things inside begin to degenerate as everyone's out for themselves, and fully-suited agents for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention enter the apartment to run mysterious and very invasive tests. Angela and Scott keep the camera on everything.

Quarantine is filmed using the dreaded "shaky cam", POV-style of cinematography. Implicitly an excuse for employing three year olds for DOPs, shaky cam is meant to "enhance the mood", "captivate the viewer by having them right in the shit", "*insert studio exec wankerism here*". I really don't like it – Ruggero Deodato did it effectively thirty years ago with Cannibal Holocaust, but it's been used to evoke nausea in viewers ever since. The whole film is shot in this fashion and while things aren't too distracting when the film's moving along, during dialogues and character build-ups (which are lame with or without epileptic camerawork) it becomes really very off-putting.

Quarantine's saving grace is certainly its action, and some really very scary set pieces. The final reveal galvanised me, and director John Erick Dowdle (who has a horror mockumentary The Poughkeepsie Tapes slated for release on January 2 2009 watch out for this one, it looks like a corker) develops some good set-ups and competent, fittingly jarring reveals. Some nice grue keep things rolling in what is generally a very fast moving and thrilling film. These are the sole components that elevate Quarantine from average or slightly below, to being a good, watchable film – and once Dowdle's decided to stop being a hack, he might just be one to watch.

I'm sure those who have seen [Rec] could dock a star, or even two, from the below rating, but for mine it was an above-average horror venture. Nothing particularly scary, but some cracking action and delicious conspiracy intrigue.
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