It would appear that I liked Quarantine more than pretty much anybody. The movie is based on a Spanish film, made just a year before called [·REC] that the whole world liked more. The reason: because [·REC] came first. Now, usually, I am the first person to hop on board the “rip-off” bandwagon, but here’s why I think something fishy is going on.
1) I have never seen [·REC], so I can’t compare, however Wikipedia (you know you trust it, too) describes Quarantine as “almost an entire shot for shot remake with a few exceptions such as added scenes and dialogue.” Ergo, unless these added scenes and dialogue are balls, the movies should, implicitly be of similar, if not identical quality
2) Criticism of the movie is mainly geared at its existence, not its quality. There seems to be a big hate-on for it, just because it’s an American re-make, as though by transferring an identical concept into another language, the original somehow loses its integrity. To the opposite effect, most critics agree that the Spanish-language version of 1931’s Dracula is artistically superior to its English-language counterpart, mostly due to the ability to improve specifically upon small details of the original. Not saying that Quarantine is Dracula caliber, but I think you get my meaning. There are some people who don’t like to read a movie (ie. closed captioning), and I, for one, hate dubbing, so what is wrong with making the same movie with two casts?
3) [·REC] is generally considered great because of its claustrophobic feeling, inspired by the hand-held camera work. That sounds to me like a damned apt description of Quarantine. And it’s not like [·REC] was the first movie to be shot with a hand-held. It’s not even the first horror movie to do so. The Blair Witch Project blew people’s minds back in 1999 because of the intimacy of its terror.
As for why I like Quarantine, it’s for the same reason that everyone loved [·REC]. I think the hand-held thing is a challenging, uncomfortable break from conventional omniscient narratorship in movies. At times I caught myself actually moving my head trying to peek around characters that were in my way. It worked in Cloverfield and it works here. Even more impressively, the camera itself becomes a prop. Whether it’s as a flashlight, or even as a weapon (awesome!), the camera becomes something of a character in and of itself.
Secondly, without musical cues or a particularly guided camera, some shocks are actually shocking. A swelling violin thing is a great way to build up tension, but having a person’s body suddenly fall 30 feet to a floor in front of you without any warning will make you shit your heart out.
I also really dug the pacing of the story. At first, our protagonist reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) is goofing off at the fire station where she is doing a late-night tag-along. The first ten minutes or so are mostly cute and delightful as we watch her and the guys get into all sorts of shenanigans. Once they take a call and arrive at the apartment, things start to tense up, before the first scare when an old lady goes zombie and bites somebody’s throat. From there, the intensity continues to build in a ball-tightening crescendo of violence and terror right up to the creepy as hell final scene.
Admittedly, the movie does have some short-comings, mostly involving the supporting cast. In this kind of movie, there’s not a whole lot of need for character development. When people are trying to eat your face, you have better things to worry about than the inner motivations that need to be conquered into over to become self-actualized. Adding character to your meat shields is tricky, because it can seem very forced (ie. the opera teacher who needlessly tells us his profession, introduces his protege, and admits to heavy drug use).
Jennifer Carpenter does the terror thing well. Rather than going the scream queen route of doing the high-pitched banshee wail before running in the wrong direction, Angela (and her cameraman companion) actually respond to the trauma they face, either with symbiotic encouragement, or pure immobilizing fear.
Ever since starting this blog, and learning this word, I have really wanted to use the word contrived. Now, I get to use it. For most of the story, there seems to be a logical progression to the way the thing plays out. There are a couple of slips (such as the fact that the cameraman is willing to hold onto the stupid thing throughout this whole experience), but they are generally excusable. The one that I could not forgive, however, occurs when, after most of the apartment’s tenants have been zombie-fied, and the police/CDC/the man have the building cut off and surrounded. There are zombies on the floor above and the floor below. I actually spoke aloud “I have never seen a movie where the characters were as fucked as this.” Then, all of a sudden, the landlord suddenly remembers that 1) there is another way out and 2) that they will need a key from upstairs to get it. Now I get to say it:… contrived! Contrived, contrived, contrived! There, now I feel like a real critic.
All contrivances (yeah!) aside, I think it’s safe to say that this is a good, scary, impressive movie. And, if the similarities are as close as I imagine it is (and this is for all you haters out there), watching Quarantine makes [·REC] pretty much irrelevant.