Quarantine arrived on horror/genre movie fan radar around the same time as word of mouth about the Spanish film that it is a remake of, REC. While this reviewer has not seen REC, and therefore cannot make comparisons between the two films, one can only hope that this is yet another case of a quality foreign film being poorly and needlessly remade for the audience that distributors assume can’t handle subtitles. As late as the 1980s, possibly even the early 1990s, the original foreign genre film would simply be re-dubbed, possibly comically poorly, and dumped unceremoniously on the low-end of the distribution market-low rent theaters, grindhouse and drive-ins or cable and video. Possibly it would gain a cult following and it’s ideas would find their way into American genre fare. Sometime in the 1990s though, dubbing fell into near fatal disrepute and the order of the day is now “Remake it with TV actors and make a quick buck off the teen market”.
Quarantine mostly falls into this category, with faces just familiar enough to qualify as “stars”, although the film still gets an R rating and the actors are on the older end for a remake of this kind. Director John Erick Dowdle previously made the much-hyped The Poughkeepsie Tapes that seemingly fell off the face of the Earth, which, like this film, was one of a mini-trend of “Found Footage” horror films in the late 00s. From the outset the film’s biggest failing is completely failing to get us to care about or even tolerate the main characters, to the point where the viewer wishes death upon them. The film also falls back on that tired old saw of horror films, especially zombie-ish ones, wherein the unpleasant characters argue amongst themselves rather than doing anything interesting. At this point, this kind of conflict is a genre convention, but too often it is a tired convention that drags movies down rather than building them up, as in this film.
The story goes like this: Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter, Dexter) is a reporter with a segment called “Night Shift” where she pulls a Dave Atell (this reference is dating me, isn’t it?) and accompanies late night workers on their duties. Tonight it’s firefighters, and she’s shadowing two of them-seemingly nice guy Jake (Jay Hernandez, Joy Ride) and sleazy sexist asshole George (Johnathon Schaech, The Doom Generation). After an interminable 20 minutes of “character development” (i.e. when you learn that you will cheer the deaths of these idiots and that the only person you don’t hate, Scott (Steve Harris, Minority Report), will spend the film behind the camera), a call comes in. The two fire fighters accompany two asshole cops into an apartment building, to deal with an old woman who has screamed in her locked room for two hours. When they open the door, the find the woman insane, drooling and violent-taking down one of the cops and George before she’s killed. Before anyone can leave the apartment, however, they’re sealed in-the building is under a government quarantine, and the apartment dwellers, emergency personnel and reporters are trapped in the building. The residents are a disparate bunch, including apartment manager Yuri (Rade Serbedzija, The Saint), doctor (vet? I was unclear) Lawrence (Greg Germann, Ally McBeal), a mother (Marin Hinkle, Two and a Half Men) and her sick child (deliver me from George Romero “tributes”, anyone who’s ever watched Night of the Living Dead knew where this was going the minute she’s introduced), several couples, one of which does not speak English and has an older relative living by himself, and a drunk. The group quarrels, does dumb stuff, and mostly waits for either the quarantine enforcers or the ever-growing number of infected residents to kill them.
For a POV cam story to work, you need to suspend disbelief. Casting recognizable TV and character actors is not the way to go, because otherwise the viewer will note each one. Characters, even if it’s just one, that you care about and want to see survive is helpful. Romero is largely responsible for the “arguing everyday folks get picked off by a slow-moving menace” scenario becoming a genre standard, but he at least understood that the audience needs someone to root for, even if they’re making the wrong decisions, and so he includes Ben, and, to a lesser extent, Barbara and the young couple. Yes, the middle-aged couple and their kid fight with each other and everyone else, and yes, that gets tedious, but there is SOMEBODY to root for. Here there really is not a lot of sympathetic characters, at least any that are built up in any real way-the two leads are irritating and the other characters are barely developed. What’s going on is not too hard to suss out. There aren’t very many scares here, either, at least not until the very end of the film. On the plus side the POV cam clichés are (largely) kept at a level that they don’t overwhelm the film. There is an excuse for them to keep using the camera and there isn’t too much shaky cam stuff. While Quarantine is not a horrible film, there are many other, better films in the genres it touches that viewers should see first.