Posted on October 14, 2008 by Jason Thorson
It’s Halloween season and until this weekend the movie theatres had offered horror fans zero tricks or treats. On October 10th director John Erick Dowdle’s Quarantine became this season’s first theatrically released genre movie and by default it vaulted to the top of my must-see list.
Quarantine, the American remake of last year’s well-received Spanish genre offering, [REC], opens with TV reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) filming an episode of their soft news program in which they profile the firemen at a Los Angeles fire station. When a call comes in to the station Angela and Scott ride along to a medical emergency in a large apartment building where the firemen confront a blood soaked and frothing elderly woman. Soon the infected woman takes a bite from one of the firemen and he too becomes infected. Then panic sets in after the CDC and the military arrive and seal everyone into the building. Angela ends the first act of the movie by looking into the camera and telling Scott the cameraman to “film everything!”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what follows.
Quarantine utilizes the POV shooting style first employed by The Blaire Witch Project, recently used to greater success in Cloverfield, used yet again in Diary of the Dead, and now completely jumping the shark in this film. Here it comes off as nothing more than a forced attempt to use the latest trend in horror filmmaking. Frustratingly, the action sequences are rendered incoherent about 95% of the time and the character of Scott doesn’t really exist other than as a name attached to the camera’s perspective. The lost footage conceit is not a necessary means to tell this story and I would even argue that it makes Quarantine less frightening.
The concept of Quarantine is undeniably fantastic. There are tensions stacked upon tensions that are inherent to the scenario setup in the first act of this movie. The only thing a concept like this needs to become a thrilling movie is to be populated with interesting characters. Yet, somehow, John Erick Dowdle neglects to do this. Instead, the entire cast of characters, including the leads, are cardboard cutouts, plot conventions written for the sole purpose of being killed. There are no relationships established between them, nor exposition given about their pasts. It seems as if there wasn’t even an effort to make them likable.
Because of the script’s lack of characterization, the acting in Quarantine leaves a lot to be desired. Jennifer Carpenter spends the third act of the movie playing Angela as being on the verge of shock and fighting the urge to break down as she shakes, hyperventilates, and screams her way around the dark apartment building. It feels like a misguided homage to the Sally Hardesty character in the climactic dinner scene of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, only in Quarantine it’s much more annoying than it is disturbing. Carpenter’s performance ends up being way over-the-top while not eliciting any empathy.
(The following paragraph contains a spoiler)
My biggest issue with Quarantine is one that has nothing to do with the filmmakers, but it affects the entertainment value of the movie in a big way. The primary TV spot/teaser that was used to promote the movie over the last few weeks is nothing more than the very last shot of the film. What makes this a huge issue is that it becomes apparent as soon as the movie’s premise is defined and Angela is established as the film’s “survivor girl.” It’s the epitome of anticlimactic to know exactly how the movie ends less than a half hour in.
One of the few bright spots of Quarantine is the effective use of lighting (no pun intended) by cinematographer Ken Seng. Light is used brilliantly during scenes in which the protagonists interact with the military and the CDC through large glass windows. The extraordinarily bright white light outside the building is not only blinding, but also threatening and otherworldly. It creates a palpable uneasiness. The lighting is also used to create dramatic irony during the dimly lit interior scenes in much the same way it was used in John Carpenter’s Halloween. The pale flesh of the infected residents glows just enough to be seen as they dart through the dark frame behind our unsuspecting survivors. It’s truly chilling.
All in all Quarantine is a disappointment. Its premise alone should have made it relatively easy to create a successful new edition to the horror genre this Halloween, a treat if you will. To be sure, there are a handful of sequences that will make you very familiar with the edge of your seat. However, they are very few and far between while the rest of the movie is comprised of tricks that we’ve seen many times before and executed much better than this – the unfortunate result of yet another unnecessary remake.
2 out of 5 flames
Review By Jason Thorson