Director : Ridley Scott
Screenplay : John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle (based on the motion picture [Rec] by Jaume Balagueró & Luis Berdejo & Paco Plaza)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Jennifer Carpenter (Angela Vidal), Steve Harris (Scott Percival), Jay Hernandez (Jake), Johnathon Schaech (George Fletcher), Columbus Short (Danny Wilensky), Andrew Fiscella (James McCreedy), Rade Serbedzija (Yuri Ivanov), Greg Germann (Lawrence), Bernard White (Bernard), Dania Ramirez (Sadie), Elaine Kagan (Wanda Marimon), Marin Hinkle (Kathy), Joey King (Briana)
A remake of the chilling handheld Spanish horror-thriller [Rec], Quarantine is essentially 28 Days Later by way of the Blair Witch/Cloverfield aesthetic, and given its blatantly derivative nature, it doesn’t deserve to work nearly as well as it does. Conveyed entirely through the lens of a single news camera wielded by a two-person news team covering the late-night shift at a Los Angeles firehouse, the story centers on a claustrophobic apartment building that becomes ground zero for a deadly rage infection that the government is so keen to contain that they don’t mind sacrificing a few innocent civilians in the process.
Our point of identification is Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter), the news reporter who is shadowing two firefighters, Jake (Jay Hernandez) and George (Johnathon Schaech). Like Cloverfield, the opening 10 to 15 minutes are purposefully banal as Angela interviews various firefighters and explores their fire station, all of which is dutifully recorded by her cameraman, Scott (Steve Harris). When a call comes in Angela is naturally excited, but once they arrive at their destination--which must be the dimmest 1920s Spanish-style apartment building in all of L.A.--it is clear that something is very, very wrong. There is no fire at the building, but there is a very strange and very sick elderly woman who proceeds to attack the firemen and two police officers, thus setting off a chain of events that leads to the quick quarantining of the building under armed guard. Promises are made from outside that the authorities are going to rescue them, but it doesn’t take a horror-movie expert to realize that the film’s title means entrapment, not protection. As the contagion begins to spread among the building’s multicultural denizens, the film’s tone takes on an air of increasing desperation and hysteria, which is visualized through the relentlessly frenzied camera movements that turn various bloody attacks into fragmented abstractions of terror (again, like Cloverfield, it is sometimes difficult to accept that the cameraman would continue filming in these extreme circumstances, but the film builds in an airtight explanation: they need the camera’s light to see in the dark building after the electricity is shut off).
Quarantine is the second horror movie by filmmaking brothers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle (the former directs and they both write the script) after their disturbing serial-killer pseudo-documentary The Poughkeepsie Tapes stirred up a bunch of buzz and controversy at the Tribeca Film Festival and then never made it to theaters last year. Dowdle has a good sense of how to create tension and milk the film’s rather thin premise for all it’s worth, although a cursory glance at [Rec] (which you can watch, appropriately enough given its aesthetic, on YouTube), shows that many of the film’s best moments are literally shot-for-shot recreations (including the grabber of a final shot, the effectiveness of which is all but ruined if you’ve seen the film’s trailer). He also gets good performances from his entire cast, especially Jennifer Carpenter, who played the possessed college student in The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2006) and here manages to convey truly unhinged fright. There isn’t anything particularly new or revelatory to be found in Quarantine (especially anything by way of subtext), but what it sets out to do it does well enough.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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