Written by: John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle (screenplay) and Jaume Balaguero, Luioso Berdejo, and Paco Plaza (original film)
Directed by: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Jennifer Carpenter, Jay Hernandez, and Steve Harris
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"They're not gonna let us out of here alive, are they?"
Yeah, so Iím just now seeing Quarantine three years after it was released. Iím not sure how that happened; October 2008 was a rough time for me personally, at which point I was saying ďhelloĒ to my first real world job (which I swiftly told ďgoodbyeĒ a six months later). When it finally came to DVD, it was accompanied by [REC], which I did see immediately. And since Quarantine was such a notoriously faithful remake, I figured itíd be a little bit redundant at the time, so it sat on my shelf for a couple of years. Now that Quarantine 2 is out, I have a perfect excuse to finally dust this one off.
The setting is different (Los Angeles subs for Barcelona), but the names and story mostly remain the same. TV reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Max are shadowing a team of firefighters who receive a call to investigate mysterious events at an apartment complex. When they arrive, it seems as though some of the inhabitants have been infected by a disease that turns them into ravenous, bloodthirsty creatures; escape is not an option, as the filmís title (and the heavy military presence outside the building) make that impossible.
Movies like Quarantine are a tricky proposition, and Iím never quite sure how to approach them; it falls into the same heap as stuff like Van Santís Psycho and that Omen redux as a film thatís basically a xerox of its original. Itís admittedly been a couple of years since I saw [REC], but all of the plot beats felt repeated, with only a few minor details and some different dialogue. But you know, itís still pretty damn solid, so what do you do with that? Sure, it feels a little bit unnecessary, but how many beloved sequels do pretty much the same thing (Iím looking at you, Friday the 13th)? At any rate, itís difficult to drop such philosophical baggage because Quarantine essentially feels like a translation (albeit a fairly good one). So I guess wonít come into play if you have an unnatural disdain for subtitles or foreign films (in which case, shame on you) and are approaching it fresh.
Youíll be greeted with a fairly impacting horror thrill ride; it of course carries over its predecessorís handheld, guerilla style, which produces a manic, chaotic feeling. Much of the filmís effectiveness comes from both the immediacy and the isolation of the situation--weíre limited to one point of view, so we catch odd glimpses and hear a bunch of scary noises. As was the case in [REC], sound is key to the immersion, with perhaps the eeriest noise being the helicopter thatís constantly hovering outside. That sinister sort of claustrophobia is palatable, which (of course) leads to paranoia and distrust among the cast. You know the drill: lots of yelling and nastiness ensues, which makes us question if theyíll manage to survive each other before the infected tear them apart. Obviously, the latter does happen to some less fortunate souls, and itís appropriately bloody and visceral, with some of the wounds being clinically detailed.
You might argue that some of the filmís effectiveness and suspense are undercut simply because I felt like Iíd already been here before (and this is not to mention that the filmís marketing materials--including the poster!--spoiled the last shot of the movie). This is where this proposition gets tricky, I guess--is it simply not as exciting the second time around, or was something lost in translation? I suspect the former is more likely. Speaking of translation, the film does a fine job with its substitutes, even though it's odd that they used some recognizable faces--something like this would seemingly be more realistic without "stars." At any rate, I really like Jennifer Carpenter, who brings a vivacious girl-next-door quality (okay, most guys just wished she lived next door). Anyone who saw her turn in The Exorcism of Emily Rose also knows she can lose her shit (well, everything except her lung capacity for screaming) with the best of them, which she does here. Jay Hernandez is one of the firefighters and is another guy Iíve always liked as a solid, likeable good guy, and his firefighter partner is Johnathon Schaech, who is sort of bawdy scoundrel. The little bit of time we get with these characters before all hell breaks loose is engaging enough to make the rest of the film compelling enough.
Somehow, Quarantine just feels like that--compelling enough. Itís so thoroughly content to go through the motions that it feels a little lazy, and one of the few changes isnít for the better. The original [REC] had a vaguely religious bent to it thatís stripped away here, which also kind of deflates the filmís apocalyptic vibe; instead, the filmís big reveal is reconfigured to tap into fears of terrorism, which I suppose is an acceptable replacement. What youíre left with is a movie you feel like youíve already seen, which really hurts considering itís driven by mystery--just what is going on up there in that mysterious attic thatís been locked for months? If you already know the answer, then your mileage may vary as far as Quarantine goes.
If you donít know, then I suppose youíll be greeted by a wickedly slick horror movie, full of jolts and gore that lead to an intense climax. Compared to the original, it doesnít do anything better, and there isnít anything thatís a whole lot worse, which just makes this an exercise in cinematic receptiveness. Definitely give [REC] a shot first, if only because it deserves that much for providing such a great blueprint, which this movie copies admirably. As for Quarantine itself, itís worth a curious look--just make sure it comes with some distance from [REC], lest you want a killer case of dťjŗ vu. DVD and Blu-ray offerings are out there, and youíll want to check out the latter since it allows Quarantine to shine in high definition, which is its one claim to fame over the original. Youíre probably wondering if the filmís lo-fi style benefits from the treatment, and it does because the film was still shot in HD and the sound design especially sparkles due to the lossless soundtrack. Special features are a bit abundant as well, as there are three featurettes that detail the making of the film, the make-up design, and some of the stuntwork. Rounding out the features is a commentary track with Erick and Drew Dowdle. Itís hard to recommend Quarantine for your own collection shelf though, simply because it is a bit redundant; pluck it off of a rental shelf instead. Rent it!
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