QUARANTINE (2008)

Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on October 15, 2008, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


Quarantine is a mostly effective movie whose achievements are nonetheless hard to quantify. Specifically, it’s difficult to judge the achievements of its makers, because they’re such a direct echo of someone else’s work. Shot for shot, if not line for line, Quarantine is almost entirely a replay of [REC], last year’s genuinely terrifying vérité shocker by Spain’s Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza that sent a two-person TV crew into an apartment house of horrors, with the entire story told from their camera’s vantage point. Directed by John Erick Dowdle, who scripted with his brother Drew following the festival success of their similarly reality-themed The Poughkeepsie Tapes, the English-language redux adopts the same visual tack and follows the same path into an identical setting (an LA residential building with remarkably Spanish-looking interior architecture), making just a handful of tweaks along the way.

Some of those are to the dialogue, particularly during the early sequences in which television reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and her largely unseen cameraman Scott (Steve Harris, whose soothing yet authoritative voice makes him perfectly cast in the role) hang around a firehouse late one night, waiting for something exciting to happen. There is, perhaps inevitably, a raunchier tone to the goings-on here, as one of the smoke-eaters (Johnathon Schaech) makes some crude come-ons and a guy in the shower room tries to show Angela his hose. Before 15 minutes have elapsed, a call comes in, and Angela and Scott hitch a ride to the four-story (plus attic, which will become significant by the climax) dwelling where a woman has been heard shrieking behind one of the closed doors. As the TV camera watches, the firemen and a couple of cops on the scene bang down her door—and unleash a plague of madness that transforms those who catch it into slavering killers. The remarkably fast-acting government seals off the building to keep the contagion from spreading, trapping the residents, along with LA’s bravest and finest plus Angela and Scott, inside.

[REC] was essentially a canny combination of the fast-moving-zombie/infected-human trend jumpstarted by 28 Days Later with the found-footage gambit seen in Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project, which was suddenly all over the horror genre in the past couple of years. The relentless pace, in-your-face terror and inexorably disintegrating sense of security created by Balagueró and Plaza is faithfully duplicated by the Dowdles, and those who haven’t seen [REC] will find Quarantine…probably not entirely fresh, given the aforementioned forebears, but certainly a jumpy and sporadically chilling experience. The circumstances create a plausible excuse for Scott to keep his rig rolling (first to document and expose the group’s forced entrapment, then simply to light the way when the building’s power fails), and as the disease spreads to more and more victims, the sense that danger could spring out from anywhere is palpable. And the camera’s-point-of-view gimmick, while by now familiar, still works to knock down one of the walls between audience and frightening situation.

On the other hand, even those coming to this material fresh may find a Dowdle-added moment in which Steve bashes an infected attacker to death with the camera, as blood smears across the lens/screen, to be an over-the-top, slapsticky distraction in the midst of the otherwise played-straight chaos. Where [REC] suggested that a supernatural possession was overtaking its characters, Quarantine establishes the scourge as an especially virulent strain of rabies, which leads to a few bits of shuddery medical business but also begs the question of why a veterinarian in the house (Greg Germann) takes as long as he does to figure out what’s happening. And while Carpenter convincingly plays Angela’s arc from curiosity to determination to panic, her whimpering through the final act gets to be a bit much—especially as compared to [REC]’s Ángela, played by Manuela Velasco, who was made of somewhat steelier stuff.

There are a few other nips and tucks scattered throughout, one addressing the fact that a rewinding of the camera’s footage wouldn’t be seen on the final tape (as it is in [REC]). But for the most part, Quarantine follows the original’s playbook down to the smallest detail, right up to the lengthy final setpiece up in that attic, which remains pretty hair-raising. (Here’s another difference between the two films, though; unlike Quarantine, [REC] didn’t have its final shot spoiled by the trailer, the TV commercials, the poster and the newspaper ads.) So the bottom line is: If you’ve seen [REC], there’s no reason to catch the remake, unless you’re curious or want to reinforce your belief that lightning of its ilk is hard to bottle twice. If, like the vast majority of U.S. fans, you haven’t viewed the original (thanks to its suppression here in favor of the redux), Quarantine is a more than acceptable substitute, and despite its smattering of flaws delivers a solid 89 minutes of jumps and jolts. Perhaps its most appreciative audience will be those who sit down to it not knowing there was a previous movie in the first place.

Similar Posts