FEBRUARY 19, 2009
Since I began Horror Movie A Day, I’ve made it a point to see every major horror movie in theaters, even on my own dime (for all of that crap about horror movies almost never being screened for ‘critics’ - seems to not really affect me all that much. Most of the ones I end up paying for had screenings I simply couldn’t make). But Quarantine was the exception; it came out during Screamfest, and by the time that was over I was too busy catching up on everything else that built up during the festival (work, life, my just-now-weaning addiction to Halo 3).
But in a way I didn’t mind, because it would put more distance between the film and [Rec], which I had seen in the early summer. By all accounts, Quarantine was an exact copy of that film, with almost nothing changed from the script. Another four months would make my [Rec] memories all the more hazy, which would allow me to enjoy the story again.
And it worked! While the overall structure remained in my mind, I forgot about certain plot points and jump scares, which allowed them to work again. For example, I had forgotten that the whole thing started from the little girl’s dog, and that she would conveniently wait until the truth was exposed to turn zombie and begin running around snarling and biting. I also forgot about the awesome “fireman plunge” that occurred early on, which is good because it’s pretty much the best scare in the movie (the end one was the best for [Rec], but it’s kind of hard to get scared at that moment now when it’s the fucking poster of the movie).
Unfortunately, there are two major flaws in Quarantine that kept me from enjoying it as much as I wanted, and it was something that would bug me even if I hadn’t seen the original. One is the cast. If you think about the alltime best “Found footage” movies, they all have one thing in common: unknown actors. Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, even (Quarantine director) John Dowdle’s own Poughkeepsie Tapes all wisely kept familiar faces out of their films, which, even though I know they were ‘just movies’, still allowed me to buy into the reality of the situation. But Screen Gems just seemingly grabbed an actor from one of their previous hits for just about every single role in the film. Emily Rose’s Jennifer Carpenter, Hostel’s Jay Hernandez, Prom Night’s Johnathon Schaech, The Fog’s Rade Sherbedgia... even the smaller roles are filled with recognizable actors, such as Vacancy’s Andrew Fiscella. It’s nice that Screen Gems is trying to bring back the old “contract player” concept, but they could have done it in a more appropriate, traditional film.
The other, bigger problem is that it’s far too clean. If there’s one genre that SHOULD look like shit, it’s the verite horror subgenre, but yet not only is everything framed perfectly at all times (even when someone is running down a flight of stairs), but it’s not even that shaky. I swear the camera is on a tripod at times. While those who get motion sick may appreciate the gesture, it makes it damn near impossible to buy as a character’s POV during a traumatic event. It also doesn’t really look like the type of footage that would be used for a news event, but I guess that’s just the norm now, and at least they didn’t try to pass off the footage as being from a consumer camera like in Cloverfield.
It’s also tough to get into that whole “POV” mindset when you never get to really meet the guy filming everything. It was the same case in [Rec], but at least there it was never an issue because the camerawork was genuine. The actor appears in a couple of shots (such as after the film’s best moment, when he uses the camera to beat a zombie to a pulp), but he doesn’t really get to create a character. Most of these movies have two cameras to get around this hurdle, but unlike Cloverfield (also single camera), no one else ever films anything either.
Luckily, it works as a straight up realtime zombie movie. The great thing about the idea is that, for once, there are a finite number of zombies to deal with. There’s no giant swarm for the ending or deus ex machina scares - we know the exact number, who’s left, who’s infected, etc. It may sound like a detriment (“not enough zombies!”) but it actually works in the film’s favor by keeping it from getting too over the top or fantastical.
And credit to Dowdle and his crew - even knowing all of the beats, I tensed up a few times, and there are a few changes that were definitely for the better. In [Rec] they stop cold about halfway through to interview the tenants, and it’s sort of a breather. They did away with that here, leaving only the interview with the little girl (which contains a crucial plot point). And - thank CHRIST - they eschew the idiotic “rewinding” part of [Rec], a moment that completely betrayed the “live footage” concept. Think about it - if we are watching a tape rewind, that means our eyes are on the camera itself, not what the camer is seeing. They also skip over most of the explanation/exposition in the attic scene, which is fine by me since I hated the explanation in the original anyway. However, I should note that other things, such as the opening at the fire station, are dragged out too long; even with that one section cut completely out, the movie is still 15 minutes longer than [Rec] was, despite being the exact same thing.
The DVD has a few standard extras, nothing essential. Rob Hall’s excellent effects are showcased in one of the featurettes, and I was surprised to learn that it was actually Doug Jones (Silver Surfer, Abe Sapien) as the “Thin Man” at the end, wearing yet another full body prosthetic. That dude must have the patience of a hundred saints. Dowdle and his brother Drew provide a commentary, but not only do they skirt around the fact that their movie is a remake, they also just sit and watch the movie sometimes. I think from now on I will skip to the end credits and listen to see if the participants talk over them. I notice that the folks who say “OK, thanks for listening!” the instant the first end credit appears on screen tend to give boring commentaries (and thus duck out as soon as possible), whereas the guys who talk until the very end (Feast III is a recent example) are engaging and enjoyable. It might save me a heap of time.
And since Sony has decided to bury [Rec] so as not to give their precious Quarantine the stigma of being a remake, your options of seeing the original are hardly favorable. You can watch the whole thing on Youtube, and there are of course bootlegs floating around, but there are various subtitling issues that may hamper your enjoyment (as much enjoyment as one could possibly derive from watching a blurry AVI file on their computer anyway). The Youtube subs seem pretty good, but again, it’s a format best designed for 20 second clips of animals doing silly things, not an 80 minute film with frenetic camera and an impressive sound design. It’s a shame that the inferior version is the one that people can access with ease, but at least it’s a respectable version. If the Psycho or Eye remakes were the only ways to see THOSE films, you can be sure I’d be rampaging around with a shotgun. At least Quarantine is, if nothing else, a pretty good movie.
What say you?
*Fuck off, they're zombies.