Quarantine

quarantine

Movie review by Greg Carlson

A derivative, vertigo-inducing horror cheapie based on the 2007 Spanish movie “REC,” “Quarantine” starts with promise but soon unravels into a haphazard hodgepodge of gimmicks.  Exclusively employing handheld, shaky photography meant to appear as if shot from the point of view of a character in the movie, “Quarantine” belongs to the same category of quasi-cinema verite shockers as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield.”  Viewers prone to motion sickness will want to steer clear of the movie, which lurches and wheels from start to finish like a dinghy in a squall.

Director John Erick Dowdle, who co-wrote the screenplay with sibling Drew Dowdle, spends the first section of “Quarantine” establishing a relationship between TV reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and firefighters Jake (Jay Hernandez) and Fletch (Johnathon Schaech) during their usually uneventful overnight shift.  In hindsight, the fire station sequence is mostly time-filler, as it turns out Dowdle is not as interested in developing Angela or the other characters as first appears.  Accompanied by cameraman Scott (Steve Harris), whose lens provides the entirety of the film’s imagery, Angela tags along with the firemen on an emergency call to a downtown Los Angeles apartment complex.

Shortly after the crew’s arrival on the scene, an elderly resident attacks one of the first responders, and the panicked residents are gathered by police officers in the building’s main floor lobby.  The situation turns from bad to worse once the Center for Disease Control seals off the entire structure, trapping the protagonists inside with an unknown threat.  Dowdle cleverly builds tension in the first half of the movie by presenting the events of the story in real time and keeping both the audience and the characters in the dark about the nature of the calamity.  Unfortunately, the feelings of suspense and dread are soon replaced by the far less interesting techniques of shock and ambush.

As viewers learn more and more about the rabies-like disease that has infected some of the renters, the movie’s intrigue evaporates and the filmmakers expect a great deal more suspension of disbelief than the story can sustain.  Shooter Scott continues to roll tape long after any sane person hoping for self-preservation would shut off the camera.  The CDC agents surrounding the building are presented as silent storm troopers, offering no words of explanation or comfort from behind their anonymous hazmat suits.  A veterinarian played by Greg Germann offers his theory for the outbreak, but the actual summary, which unspools in the final reel, turns out to be a half-baked post-9/11 terror tale.

The most disappointing dimension of “Quarantine” is the erosion of Angela’s resourcefulness and confidence when people literally begin foaming at the mouth.  Once the ghouls emerge from the shadows to do gruesome harm, the young woman’s assertiveness melts away as she transforms into another sobbing, imperiled victim so common to the genre.  The climax, which tries to ape the night vision adrenaline of “The Silence of the Lambs,” falls short, and the dubious inclusion of its scenes for the movie’s trailer and poster thoroughly extinguishes any hope for needles-and-pins surprise.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 10/20/08. 

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