Sony // 2008 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // February 17th, 2009
On March 11 2008, the government sealed off an apartment complex in Los Angeles. The residents were never seen again. No details. No witnesses. No evidence. Until now.
Quarantine is brothers Erick and Drew Dowdle's (The Poughkeepsie Tapes) 2008 remake of the creepy 2007 Spanish horror film and festival darling [Rec], co-directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza.
Television reporter Angela (Jennifer Carpenter, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris, The Practice) are shadowing a group of firefighters called to the scene of a disturbance at an apartment building. Once there, they discover an old woman covered in blood, out of her mind, and viciously violent. As police officers and firefighters assess the situation, the CDC seals off the building with everyone inside. A disease of some sort spreads quickly among the trapped, turning them into raving maniacs who attack and bite anyone near them. Angela, Steve, and firefighter Jake (Jay Hernandez, Hostel) struggle to stay alive, uncover the mystery of the disease, and find a way out of the building.
Critics mostly savaged Quarantine for being a poor remake of [Rec], but one doesn't need to compare it to the original in order to find fault. Remake or not, Quarantine is 89 minutes of bone-chilling potential smothered in cliché, lazy scares, and annoying characters. Chief among its problems is its arriving late to the game of using cinéma vérité style to give horror flicks more visceral oomph. Taking their cue from 1999's The Blair Witch Project, directors Danny Boyle and George A. Romero have already delivered found-footage zombie chillers with 28 Days Later and Diary of the Dead respectively. Because of Doyle's picture, Romero's suffered from been-there-done-that syndrome, leaving Quarantine little hope of feeling fresh and innovative. It doesn't. Still, if it were more carefully constructed, it would be easier to forgive Quarantine's derivativeness. After all, if a zombie flick suspends your disbelief successfully enough to scare the snot out you, who cares if it's a copycat?
While Quarantine manages some creepy atmosphere, it's far more frustrating than it is scary. The Dowdles tick off zombie flick genre conventions as though they're keeping score, but pay little attention to their characters, which aren't much more than bags of Undead Chow dressed up in firefighter costumes and clothes from Old Navy. If I saw an obviously ill and nearly catatonic old woman suddenly spring into action and bite out the jugular of a firefighter trying to assist her, I'd be hesitant to approach any other sick people -- especially sick people whose faces are obscured by atmospheric lighting. Not the dopes in Quarantine. They just keep tiptoeing up to the infected, somehow oblivious to the danger that they've witnessed firsthand. "Are you okay?" they say in their gentle, caregivers' voices, just before their faces are ripped off. It's difficult to have sympathy for them. Worse yet, none of the characters (except one guy who we're supposed to think is a selfish a-hole) is bright enough to think of finding a quiet place to hole up and ride out the storm. After all, the zombies pretty much stick to themselves until firefighters and neighbors break into their apartments and walk up to them to ask if they're feeling all right. To my knowledge, this is the only zombie movie ever made in which the undead are smarter and more polite than the living (and I've seen a lot of zombie movies).
Worst of all, the Dowdles' heroine is utterly worthless in a crisis situation. Jennifer Carpenter is incredible at playing panicky and blubbering, but those qualities are far less appealing in a protagonist than in a tertiary character you know from the outset will (thankfully) be monster food before the end credits roll. Even when she's not crying and flailing about in a panic, Angela is a jerk. After trying to use her position in the media to get out of the sealed building (presumably leaving the expendable non-fourth estate chumps behind), she insists on her cameraman filming everything (presumably so she can win an Emmy and get a gig on CNN) even though that means the poor guy has to hold a camera on his shoulder while repeatedly running for his life. By the time the movie's third act rolls around, her vanity, stupidity, and complete lack of grace under pressure are actually causing other people to die. I almost wanted to keel over myself, re-animate, and bite her head off in order to stop the stupidity and ease my own somebody-smack-that-bitch sense of frustration. Quarantine is the worst sort of horror movie: it sacrifices likeable characters and any semblance of logic for the sake of lazily plodding on to the next predictable scare.
Though Quarantine was shot in the handheld, jiggle-matic, puke-o-vision style that is zombie flick chic these days, the quality of the image is quite good. Colors are accurate and fully saturated in sequences shot under normal lighting conditions, while darker moments provide deep black levels and strong shadow detail. The 1.85:1 anamorphically-enhanced transfer is high on style and low on digital flaws. The accompanying soundtrack, presented in Dolby 5.1 surround, uses the front and rear soundstages to create a creepy ambient space, while delivering clean dialogue and noise aplenty during the show's big scares.
In addition to the feature, the disc also contains a few extras, most of them of the electronic press kit variety. The Dowdle brothers provide a feature-length audio commentary. "Locked In: The Making of Quarantine" (10:06) is a featurette that does a great job of explaining how the movie is constructed of carefully rehearsed, fluid, five-minute takes shot with a subjective camera. Despite its narrative flaws, the film is well made on a technical level. The featurette is a puff piece, but still interesting. "Dressing the Infected: Robert Hall's Make-Up Design" (7:30) is cool because it gives you a much closer look at the gory make-up than the dark shots in the feature. "Anatomy of a Stunt" (3:23) details the stunt work involved in a sequence involving a woman's two-story fall from a staircase.
At best, Quarantine is worth a rental. The movie is good for a few satisfying one-time scares, but its compromised protagonist and rote plot ensure that it won't hold up to repeat viewings.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R