Thursday, October 30, 2008

Movie Review: Quarantine

You know that horror movie that's shot on a home video camera, and where all the characters are dead by the end? Have you seen that one?

Quarantine, directed by John Erick Dowdle. Screenplay by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle. Starring Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, and Jay Hernandez. Produced by Sergio Aguero, Clint Culpepper, and Doug Davison. Screen Gems: 2008. Rated R. USCCB Rating is L--Limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling (boy, you don't see that on this blog very often).

Read other reviews here.

'Tis the season for throwaway horror flicks. A bunch of bloody, brainless movies are showing? No, it's not another anime convention--it's October, and tomorrow, of course, is The Sci Fi Catholic's official Catholic holiday, a time for pumpkins, candies, costumes, and confused Evangelicals who can't define Satanism, but sure know how to use it to label stuff.

And this season, of course, morally obligates me to review at least one horror film. Just as a warning, this is my least favorite genre of speculative fiction.

Quarantine is another one of those movies that tries to look as if it were filmed on a home video camera, or in this case, a camera being used for a reality TV show, and as in other movies of this kind, the camera, unlike the characters, is invincible. The final-girl-type protagonist for this particular outing of the indomitable camera is small-time TV personality Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter, who, readers may want to know, previously played Emily Rose in The Exorcism of Emily Rose). With her is her cameraman (Steve Harris), and with him, of course, is the real star of the show, that invincible camera we know and love. For some TV show or other, they're spending the night tailing a group of firemen. For that reason, approximately fifteen minutes of the movie are taken up with a dull attempt to build camaraderie between Angela and the firemen, but after that, they're called out to a rickety old apartment building to assess a medical emergency.

The firemen only know that a woman at the apartment building had started screaming and then went quiet. When they arrive (cameraman and Angela in tow), they find the woman making weird noises and foaming at the mouth. Said woman quickly goes out of control and mangles two of the firemen. Evil government agents, who are always close-by in situations like this, seal the building and trap everyone inside, after which more and more members of the cast get infected with the doomsday-virus-of-the-week and turn into savage zombie-like creatures, or else get killed in various creative ways, including, but by no means limited to, dog maulings, human maulings, beatings with a sledgehammer, beatings with an axe, and drops from upper storeys. But let's not forget the film's highlight in which a woman is actually beaten to death with the camera lens! Naturally, the camera remains perfectly intact and functional even after cracking human bone.

Quarantine, when you get right down to it, doesn't have a plot or a point. Its sole purpose is to scare the pants off you while eliminating its cast members at a steady pace, and then briefly throw in an unlikely explanation at the end so you don't leave the theater wondering what the heck was going on. It doesn't make any real attempt to build tension, but elicits fear entirely by having things jump suddenly at the camera. The jump-scare is used again and again until the movie feels like a theme park ride. But even though it gets ridiculous after most of the cast has been zombified, it really is a frightening movie, and several of the jump-scares are effective.

Personally, I like my horror to exist for some purpose besides the mere cheap thrill, but then again, not every horror movie can be The Shining or The Silence of the Lambs, so if the cheap thrill is all you want, Quarantine delivers without being unnecessarily disgusting, though be warned that it does enjoy showing close-ups of gaping wounds and smashed rats, even if most of the really savage violence is performed off-camera (with the exception, of course, of that woman who gets her face bashed in with the camera lens!). The acting in this film is quite good, which is not surprising, since most of the actors are respected veterans. At the same time, though Jennifer Carpenter does a great job going hysterical in a situation that would make anybody hysterical, her convincing acting gets annoying after a while. That points up the film's primary flaw--because the movie has no point, the characters have no point. They exist for the sole purpose of getting scared and then getting killed. Their few attempts to escape the building are pathetic and short-lived, giving them something to do while the audience waits for the next zombie-jumping-at-the-camera scene. Perhaps with more careful attention to narrative or character development, or more attention to the building's architecture, the characters could have had something substantial to accomplish, and then they could have actually failed or succeeded. That would have made the movie more memorable.

And it's worth pointing out, because every other reviewer has, that this is yet another American remake of a foreign-language horror flick, though in this instance, the original isn't Japanese. This is a remake of [REC], a 2005 Spanish film. If there's one thing the critics agree on, it's that the original is better, but I haven't seen it and in all likelihood, neither have you.

Content Advisory: Blood and gore, scary images, and frequent coarse language.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Quarantine:

Myth Level: Low (the movie is, you know, just kind of there)

Quality: Medium-High (effective acting and production, but the film exists without purpose)

Ethics/Religion: Medium (definitely not suitable for children; see the USCCB review)
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