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QUARANTINE (2008) ***1/2 movie review by COOP

Posted on October 14th, 2008
Posted on October 14th, 2008


Since the success of “The Blair Witch Project,” filmmakers have tried to copy its minimalistic format in an effort to cash in on the gimmick. “Found Footage” films are quick and easy to produce, require minimal editing and are super cheap to shoot. Many critics are quick to condemn these films as amateurish and annoying. I appreciate the genre, but I’ve seen a ton of bad ones. Thankfully, “Quarantine” does it right.

Rookie reporter Angela Vidal (“Dexter’s” Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) accompany a pair of Los Angeles firefighters (Jake Hernandez and Johnathon Schaech) on a routine medical call at an apartment building. When they arrive, they find police already on the scene interviewing residents who say they heard screams coming from an apartment. The firefighters and police break into the room to find a sick woman who viciously attacks and bites them, causing severe injuries. When the civil servants try to evacuate their wounded, they find all exits barricaded from the outside. The Center for Disease Control informs the occupants that they are under quarantine and will be shot if they attempt to leave the building. Scott films the harrowing ordeal as the survivors look for a way out and defend themselves from crazed, disease-infected residents.

I’m a sucker for these “Found Footage” films and this one nearly approaches the quality of “Cloverfield” in terms of production. Sure, you can scoff at how the camera conveniently captures every important moment in a perfect narrative structure, but we are long past the point where we are supposed to believe this footage is real. “Blair Witch” forever ruined that for us, but the real reward is in the delivery. I marveled at “Quarantine,” wondering how many rehearsals and takes the actors had to go through to achieve the long, unedited shots. I can only imagine the staggering level of choreography needed to complete the lengthy scenes. The experience of acting in this type of film must be like walking through the most realistic spook house attraction and having someone film your reactions. Whatever the case, it creates an extremely intense and terrifying experience for the audience.

Despite the quality of the scares, “Quarantine” has problems. The camera work isn’t consistent and many of the scenes/shots feel exaggerated and staged. Jennifer Carpenter screams and hyperventilates the entire last half of the film, making her performance tiresome. A scene in which Scott beats an infected resident with his camera lens (You can imagine what that looked like from the audience’s point of view) was unintentionally laughable. Too many of the characters do a lousy job of defending themselves, knowingly entering deadly situations with empty hands. The most dangerous and intimidating villain came in the form of an infected German Shepherd, but the filmmakers missed the opportunity to capitalize on its potential. These sound like major gripes, but the film is so intense and frightening, I can dismiss them in favor of the overall effect.

“Quarantine” is a remake of a Spanish film still unreleased in the U.S. called “[REC]” and word of mouth says the remake is nearly a carbon copy of the original (although many are quick to point out the superiority of the original). The title of the Spanish film is clever and makes me wonder why the U.S. filmmakers went with the un-clever “Quarantine” title, which frankly spoils a surprising plot twist in the early parts of the story. Speaking of spoilers, internet film aficionados flooded the message boards of Ain’t It Cool News, expressing anger that the “Quarantine” trailer (and the TV spots, and the poster) appeared to give away too much of the story. The filmmakers issued a statement claiming the promotional media didn’t reveal anything that would ruin the ending. You’ll have to see “Quarantine” to discover whether they told the truth or not.

A movie told from the point of view of the character’s camera is not a recent gimmick. Even before “The Blair Witch Project” in 1999, the notorious 1980 exploitation movie “Cannibal Holocaust” used the same format. The style has made a resurgence with the success of “Cloverfield” and indie filmmakers who use the gimmick to make a cheapie horror flick. These “found footage” movies ratchet up the tension by tricking your imagination into thinking what you’re seeing is real and can simulate the effect of being right there in the action. I suppose that’s the reason this type of thriller has such an impact on audiences, but it’s quickly overstaying its welcome by over-saturating the theaters and direct-to-DVD bins.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars

Since many claim that the “Quarantine” trailer shows too much, here is the teaser for the original Spanish film, “[REC]”. I took a peek at the final scene of “[REC]” on YouTube and I believe it’s way scarier than the U.S. version…

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