Quarantine is a scene for scene remake of the Spanish horror film, [REC]. I saw Quarantine with no preconceived notions as I haven't had time to see the original film it was based on. All I knew was that [REC] has been hailed as one of the best foreign horror films to come along in awhile and has been mentioned along with Let The Right One In and Haut Tension as examplars of some of the great stuff that is being made outside of the US.
Additionally, on the mainstream horror sites out there - like Bloody Disgusting and Dread Central - Quarantine was showing up equally on Best and Worst lists by various horror writers. That alone was reason enough for me to make a point of checking it out. I should note, the drama around this movie falls into a couple different camps. The first is those who hate it because it is an almost scene for scene remake of another movie. The cries of anguish by the people who lament 'Big Hollywood' and its oppression of smaller, independent film - while being in some cases valid - is also somewhat annoying because the system is the system. Accept it and move on. I understand this and adjust my viewing based on what I can and can't tolerate. For instance, I refuse to watch PG-13 movies because - as a hardcore horror fan - I simply will not tolerate horror that is watered down, antiseptic, and acceptable to viewing by the average 13 year old.
The second camp is dedicated to those who hate the recent onslaught of 'Reality Horror'; movies like Romero's Diary of the Dead, or Cloverfield, or genre progenitor, The Blair Witch Project. Where I agree that it has yet to be done well, and done effectively, it's still much better than some of the other trends out there in horror. J-Horror comes to mind. J-horror - for those who don't know - is the endless stream of remakes of Japanese horror films that are coming out. Things like The Grudge, The Ring, or the other bazillion movies that have been remade and packaged as the scariest things in the world. Ghosts aren't scary, dude. No matter how white and pasty you make them, and no matter how herky jerky you make them move across the floor. There's a cultural difference between what scares the Japanese, and what scares Americans; and ghosts don't cut it here in 'Mer'ka.
That and most of them are fucking PG-13.
Anyway - I was excited to see Quarantine because - truthfully - I'm as big a fan of reality horror as you can get and I'm still looking for a film that makes me believe that it's happening and it's real. Cloverfield came close, but it still had some level of polish that belied the believability. Well - until I'd seen Quarantine - I was disappointed. I'm excited to say that Quarantine finally proved that it's possible to make a reality horror film that doesn't feel improbable.
Quarantine tells the story of a news team who spend the night with some fireman in LA. The news crew consists of an on-air personality and her cameraman, and they ride along with two brash, but charming, firemen to a call at an apartment building. When they arrive, they find themselves suddenly thrust into a horrifying nightmare and trapped in the building, quarantined with its diverse occupants and an infection that turns its victims into insane, cannibalistic monsters.
The film has a very simple plot and premise, but it is executed to near horror perfection. I'm not really spoiling anything by telling you that the terror here is a type of infection... one could have figured it out based on the commercials and the title... but it is utilized to full effect.
The film moves at a quick pace, but doesn't feel rushed, and the camera work is exactly what one would expect from a news camera person. And that is where other reality horror films have failed. Whereas they use people with camcorders and often forget the limitations of their premise (ie; they use edits and camera technique that are obviously contrived and professional), Quarantine's camerawork becomes a part of the drama and has the feel of raw footage one would receive from, say, a war correspondent. The 'get the shot, no matter what' attitude adds to the story, and doesn't detract.
The acting was top notch, even the acting done by Jennifer Carpenter. Jennifer Carpenter plays the on air reporter and gives a strong and believable performance here. You may know Carpenter as Deb Morgan, the profane and flawed sister of everybody's favorite serial killer, Dexter. Dexter is one of my favorite television shows right now and I have always been, truthfully, disappointed by Jennifer Carpenter's work on that show. On a show with such a stellar cast and such superb talent, Carpenter's work has always seemed sub-par. This movie, though, is the perfect vehicle for her over the top delivery and performance.
At the end especially - her terror is played as though she is really and truly feeling it. She is near hysterical with fear, and Jennifer Carpenter carries the weight of all of the horror and insanity she's witnessed and makes it personal for us, the viewer. The decline of her character - from a smart, witty, self-assured career newswoman; to a terrified, hyperventilating, traumatized wreck - is fascinating to watch.
The supporting cast does an equally great job. The majority of the actors were unknowns and this worked to the story's advantage. With the exception of a couple familiar character actors - one felt that this really could have been a real crisis situation.
And, an advantage of the realistic camera work that worked incredibly well was the frequent use of jump scares. Normally, jump startles are telegraphed and - honestly -are the work of lazy, inexperienced, or bad directors. Not so in this case. There were probably a half dozen or more jump scares and every one worked to full effect. Kudos to the director and DP.
The infected, by the way, fucking rocked. One could make the argument that they're alive and, like Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later infected, weren't zombies in the purest sense. But I've never been one to get my panties in a bunch with that distinction like other zombie fans do. The fact is that the infected in Quarantine are psychotic flesh eaters who no longer feel pain is close enough to a zombie to count. And, as the movie progresses and the tension builds, the terror the infected represent is chilling and deliciously played out. And, the setting adds perfectly to the agonizing horror. Director John Erick Dowdle does a phenomenal job of making the apartment building a character in its own right. The claustrophobia and terror of being trapped and quarantined in a building with the infected is downright awesome.
To give you a feel for how palpable this fear was; imagine yourself trapped in a small five story walkup apartment with ten zombies. Now make them the running, insanely fast and aggressive zombies of Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake.
Fracking. Awesome. Dude!
One final point, this movie did something I normally hate in a movie. It gives an explanation or origin for the problem. I've railed against this before, and in other reviews, but in this case I'm ok with it. The 'explanation' actually works and adds to the story and realism, as well as provides additional terror for the principals.
All in all, this film is - in Doctor Zombie's not so humble opinion - probably one of the best horror films of 2008. In fact, it's so good, it's made me want to see the original Spanish-language [REC] to see how it compares. Unfortunately, as many who are smarter than me have said, the disadvantage to seeing some great horror movies is that you can't see them again for the first time.
So... get out there! Find Quarantine and see it. I would even go so far as to recommend that you see it in a theater because the effective use of jump scares works so much better when you're in a full theater with people screaming and reacting along with you.
I do have one major gripe - and I'm adding it here at the end. It is a bit of a spoiler so stop reading now if spoilers piss you off. I'll wait...
SPOILERS COMING (Click and highlight the space below to see...)
The poster above, and all of the advertising for the movie, basically tell you how the movie ends. In fact, because they'd played the trailer as they did on television ad nauseum, the whole last ten minutes of the movie is - in my mind - made less and to me - almost ruined it. Where I understand the powerfulness of this imagery made this movie seem really scary and creepy, and contributed to getting people in the seats to see it... I also felt it detracted.
A small gripe - but a gripe nonetheless...
END OF SPOILERS...
...and end of review. SEE THIS MOVIE! You won't be disappointed! Dr. Z. promises!!!
Doctor Zombies Rating: 5 out of 5 Chomped Brains!!!