Never a Dull Moment
The hand-held shaky-cam gets another strong workout in Quarantine, a near scene-for-scene remake of the award-winning Spanish horror/thriller [REC] released last year. And while this "found-footage" concept accompanied by the jittery shaky-cam technique lost its luster sometime shortly after The Blair Witch Project introduced theater owners to the wonders of bleach and other vomit cleaning chemicals, it gets a reboot of sorts with this well-executed thriller from co-writers/co-directors John Erick and Drew Dowdle. Their script isn't necessarily anything original, but their flawless execution and well-purposed use of the little things that so many filmmakers forget about, make Quarantine the best of the Blair Witch clones.
When roving rookie reporter Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris), are sent to a local L.A. firehouse to do a fluff piece about people who work while the rest of the world sleeps, they get more than they bargained for when a particular 911 distress call takes them to a small apartment building downtown. When they arrive, police are already on the scene investigating blood-curdling screams that emanate from an apartment on the third-floor. As reporters are always eager to do, Angela and Scott keep tape rolling.
What initially appears to be a simple domestic dispute or one of those drug-fueled, "crazy person" calls, actually turns out to be some sort of fast-acting rabies-like virus that causes its victims to turn into ravenous, teeth-baring beasts. The CDC quickly quarantines the building and exits are "monitored" by strategically positioned S.W.A.T. snipers. All TV, Internet, and phone access is terminated. But what sets everyone into such a panic is the lack of an explanation by the authorities as to why they're being locked inside. Within the span of fifteen minutes, the tone of film has gone from light-hearted and jovial, to one of sheer pandemonium as the building's inhabitants are now forced to look to each other for help -- and we know how that usually turns out. The filmmakers draw us in with some endearing and personal touchy-feely moments in the firehouse, and then quickly land a sucker-punch to our gut from which we're never quite able to recover.
There's never a dull moment in Quarantine, a fact that actually draws the film's only criticism. We're never given an opportunity to catch our breath, much less a chance to pull ourselves back up from the edge of our seats. But not to worry, at a scant 89 minutes it's all over fairly quickly anyway.
The Dowdles make great use of the documentary-like techniques that allow us to see all the action from the point-of-view of Scott's video camera in near real-time. In some ways, the camera itself becomes a character, even doing its own part to take down an infected attacker. So, rather than pretending as if there's no camera, the actors actually perform directly to the camera. Especially Angela, who initially keeps her professional-reporter smarts about her by constantly quipping, "tape everything, we need to show them what's happening in here," but eventually descends into a hyperventilated, whimpering heap of little girl. And she's so convincing, we collapse right along with her.
Playing up the intensity of the descent into madness are many effective little tricks employed by the Dowdles. Spotlights constantly flashing into the building's windows from buzzing helicopters, police sirens wailing outside, and blaring bullhorn announcements create an relentless feeling of discomfort. The constant drone nearly irritates. And a lack of light -- the electricity is cut to the building -- coupled with the hand-held camera's narrow field-of-vision give us an extreme sense of claustrophobia.
Despite its lack of originality, the film's script is actually quite tight and plays a huge part in the effectiveness of the film. The writers managed to avoid the oft-traversed pitfalls that slap the viewer back to reality with situations that don't seem real... or with people who don't behave as we'd expect. Here we're totally convinced and find ourselves completely absorbed in the tragic situation at hand. Especially in a post-911 world, it's not unrealistic to think we could find ourselves abandoned by authority. Now more than ever, we realize that every man for himself can be the difference between life and death.
(Released by Screen Gems and rated "R" for bloody and disturbing content, terror and language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.