Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quarantine


I'll admit that I wasn't too motivated to check out Quarantine. It looked like such a dead-on recreation of its source material - the acclaimed Spanish shocker [REC] (2007) - that I wondered whether I really needed to bother. I wasn't looking to avoid it out of any film geek elitism, though - I would have been just as reluctant to watch the exhausting original a second time (even for a chance to see it on the big screen). It's just not a movie I felt the need to see twice.

But I did think [REC] was an ideal candidate for a US remake and that a nearly shot-for-shot approach was definitely the way to go. It may make Quarantine redundant for those who have seen the original but that's not who this is aimed at. Even though it's true that audiences should be able to suck it up and read subtitles, that's just not the world (or specifically, the country) that we live in. You can call people unwilling to read subtitles idiots if you like and you can call studio heads assholes for not forcing more Americans to be exposed to foreign fare but I just can't find it in my heart to berate people for looking to enjoy a movie about a rabies outbreak without the distraction of subtitles. To me it's nothing to get on a high horse about.

So while I wasn't against Quarantine, I was still reluctant to see it. But there's so little out there horror-wise this October and with the running time on Quarantine being an attractively slim 89 minutes, I gave it a shot. And I'm glad to say that - even with being familiar with where the story was going - Quarantine really worked for me. Brothers John and Drew Dowdle (the duo responsible for the much-talked about but still unreleased Poughkeepsie Tapes) recreated the intensity of [REC] with much more fidelity than I would've thought possible. Maybe I'm just a sucker for the same scares I already saw but I flinched my way through the greater share of Quarantine.

I don't remember enough exact details about [REC] to say whether some of the issues I had with Quarantine were directly inherited from the original or if they're the doing of the Dowdle's but there were moments in Quarantine that only served to remind viewers that - Shaky-cam realism notwithstanding - this is all Just A Movie. Like when characters turn on a TV for all of five seconds but get the exact information on the local news that they need to hear (whereas in real-life, you'd find yourself watching an interminably long commercial break), or when a character will turn rabid at just the most dramatically opportune time, or that there's one character in this besieged building who conveniently has the medical experience to explain that we're dealing with a form of rabies - that kind of stuff. As I said, I don't remember whether these were all elements in [REC] as well but regardless, they don't affect Quarantine's bottom line. And that bottom line being that Quarantine is one scary movie.

As the character who's on screen in almost every single frame of Quarantine, Jennifer Carpenter does an outstanding job as news reporter Angela Vidal. This is the kind of performance that - if it wasn't in a genre film - would get all kinds of acclaim. Carpenter holds our attention throughout and manages to be likable even when there's ample opportunity for the audience to sour on her character. After all, we have to go along with Angela's insistence that her cameraman keep rolling at all times, we have to not see her as a whiner - even when circumstances demand that she break down, and we have to believe that she isn't making the situation worse by chasing a story. But Carpenter's performance is able to pull all that off - her character responds to her dilemma as well as anyone reasonably could. Others may disagree but there's a segment of movie-goers out there who hate any character who isn't the strong silent type. They can't conceive that they themselves would ever be over their head in any given situation and can't tolerate the idea - even in a work of fiction - that a character worth caring about wouldn't know exactly how to solve any crisis. In their minds, there's no such thing as the no-win scenario - only people too stupid to save themselves. And similarly, if there isn't a satisfying outcome to a film clearly it's because the writers were too lazy to do their job.

So on that count, some people will reject this movie. But I'm glad that the nihilism of [REC] wasn't buffered for US audiences. I'm also glad that we were spared a subplot where a miracle antidote to the virus is somewhere, just waiting to be found. Quarantine won't be for everyone but it's the best hybrid to date of the guerrilla tactics of Cannibal Holocaust and Blair Witch and the gloss of mainstream US horror.

4 comments:

knobgobbler said...

I've yet to see Quarantine but I saw [Rec] last night at a friend's house and thought it was pretty damn good.
Making me want to see Quarantine... except that I'm wondering why they changed the 'cause' of the outbreak to be some form of rabies? That's a small but significant alteration from the final revelation in [Rec].
I'd be curious to know why they decided to remove the supernatural element.

Jeff Allard said...

I'm guessing that with the majority of the movie being meant to establish a gritty, real-world vibe the producers probably thought it made more sense to offer an easily-understood explanation for the outbreak. Whatever the source of the outbreak was in the original, I don't think having it be supernatural in origin added much to the movie as I couldn't remember what it was now if I tried. On the other hand, I doubt if I'll ever have any problem remembering that Quarantine was about rabies.

Absinthe said...

Still haven't seen [Rec] but I decided to take a mental health day last Friday and took a half day of vacation and went to the movies to see Quarantine - not for any particular reason except it was there, it was a horror movie, the trailer looked cool. I was actually very surprised and loved it. I really liked the fact that we get an unhappy ending - its more realistic if that really were to happen. If the original had a supernatural element I think this one was better having a cause that could happen i.e. a new form of rabies created by a crazy person trying to bring about the end of the world.

The only thing I would have liked to have seen would have been rabies chihuahua attack - the little dog gets away from its owners and its all lined up to have a pissed off killing machine just come running out of the dark straight for the ankles. I'm guessing they backed away from this because it would have added a little dark humor and they wanted to keep it serious but still I would have loved to see the ankle biter turned deadly.

Jeff Allard said...

Great idea about the chihuahua - it's always the small threats you have to watch out for! But I bet you're right about it being too funny for the film.