Quarantine (2008) – Horror Film Review

Director John Erick Dowdle’s Quarantine is such a faithful recreation of its source material – the acclaimed Spanish shocker [REC] (2007), which documented the outbreak of a virulent disease in a sealed-off apartment complex - that those who have already seen the original won’t see much new in this Americanized counterpart. But while Quarantine doesn’t surpass [REC], Dowdle (and his brother Drew, who co-wrote the screenplay) reproduce the intensity of their Spanish predecessor with more fidelity than many fans of the original might’ have expected.

As with the original, Quarantine takes place within a solitary, fear-fraught night as a TV reporter and her cameraman, working on a light profile piece about neighborhood fire fighters, accompany a rescue crew on a call to an apartment building and find themselves in the middle of a dramatically more serious story than they anticipated. Following suit with [REC], this is another entry in the recent wave of ‘hand-held’ horror films (Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead), as the story unfolds entirely through the lens of the news camera.

While Quarantine is tersely told with a trim 89-minute running time that leaves little room to ponder the rush of events, there are several moments that inadvertently serve to remind viewers that – shaky-cam ‘realism’ or no – this is all Just A Movie. Characters tend to turn rabid at the most dramatically opportune times, and of course there’s one character in the besieged building who conveniently possesses the medical expertise to explain that we’re dealing with a form of rabies. But even as these moments call attention to the occasional artificiality of the storytelling, Quarantine remains a well-orchestrated shocker.

Appearing in almost every frame, actress Jennifer Carpenter (of the Showtime series Dexter) does a laudable job as news reporter Angela Vidal, managing to remain 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 perceive her as a whiner (even when circumstances demand that she break down in hysterics); and we also have to believe that she isn’t making the situation worse by chasing a story. But Carpenter is able to pull it off – her character responds to this no-win scenario as well as anyone reasonably could.

Although those familiar with [REC] might’ve expected to see its concluding moments altered for the remake, to their credit the Dowdle brothers don’t buffer the nihilism of the original for US audiences. They also don’t go too heavy on explanations, giving just enough hints about the virus to satisfy the most basic questions of its origin. Quarantine may not be innovative in its own right, but it’s the best hybrid to date of the guerrilla tactics of Cannibal Holocaust and Blair Witch with the gloss of mainstream US horror.

QUARANTINE (2008). Directed by John Erick Dowdle. Screenplay by John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle, based on the motion picture [REC], written by Jaume Balaguero & Luis Berdejo & Paco Plaza. Cast: Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, Jay Hernandez, Jonathon Schaech, Columbus Short, Andrew Fiscella, Rade Serbedzija, Greg Germann. Bernard White, Daia Ramirez.

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Jeff Alard

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