With innovation such a scarce commodity, Hollywood should really stop remaking foreign films. Aside from their almost universal track record for underachieving, there is something so basic about experiencing a movie in its native tongue that no translation (or poorly scripted dubbing) can match. This past August, the sensational Spanish thriller [REC] -- as in the "record" button on a video camera -- caused an uproar in New Zealand when one beleaguered audience member soiled themselves during a screening. Naturally, Tinseltown already had its version -- relabeled Quarantine -- ready to jump on such publicity. As found footage/first person POV style shockers go, it’s pretty good. You can leave your adult diapers at home, however.
Viewed through the lens of her accompanying cameraman Scott (Steve Harris), reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) prepares for a night following the exploits of an LA fire company. Quickly introduced to Jake (Jay Hernandez) and George (Johnathon Schaech), she learns that the hook and ladder life isn't always emergencies and heroism. When a call comes from the tenants of a rundown apartment building, the guys treat it as routine. But Angela and Scott soon uncover something horrifying -- people in the complex appear infected with a kind of super rabies. And the city, state, and national governments are closing off the building, locking everyone -- the sick and the healthy -- within. While trying to get out, our news crew discovers an even more shocking truth. The ill have gone insane and are attacking and killing the living. Article continues below
If you never saw [REC], never read a single review of the mesmerizing shocker, or have no idea of the brilliant work done by directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, then Quarantine will appear absolutely fresh and highly imaginative. Using the Blair Witch/Cloverfield/Diary of the Dead conceit of presenting everything through the viewfinder of a photojournalist, this story of a building under siege and the residents trapped inside is a lot like a single-location 28 Days Later. We aren't really dealing with zombies, just diseased individuals who roam around a dark environment and lash out in violent and excessively bloody ways at those around them. And like the first film, everything is traced back to a spooky penthouse residence... and whatever still exists inside.
But true to the American way of "bigger is better," the small scale Spanish production is given a much broader cinematic canvas from which to work. Most of the previous shocks are present again, but Poughkeepsie Tapes director John Erick Dowdle (who co-wrote with brother Drew) can't leave well enough alone. He does add a couple of clever gross outs -- including one involving a mad dog, a man, and a closed elevator -- but he counters that with an overabundance of unimportant characterization. It takes a good 20 minutes for the movie to get going, leaving the irritating Jennifer Carpenter ample time to show off her sizable scenery chewing skills. She gives other talent termites a bad name, literally gnawing at her scenes, and shrieking like a broken banshee.
Even worse, the Dowdles diddle with [REC]'s breathtaking ending. Sure, there are the same signature beats, but they try to make scientific sense of what's happening, instead of sticking with the original's supernatural religious ambiguity. All differences aside however, the duo conjures up a decent amount of dread. Quarantine is not perfect, but it takes its unusual premise (and by now, overused approach) and manages to find a way to make it all work well. Fans of what Balagueró and Plaza accomplished should probably steer clear. But if you're in the mood for a solid, suspense-filled 90 minutes, this movie will definitely give you the Westernized creeps.