A quickie American remake of the recent Spanish thriller '[Rec]', 'Quarantine' gives zombie horror the 'Blair Witch Project' and 'Cloverfield' treatment. The movie is shot entirely from the first-person point of view of a handheld video camera carried by one of the main characters (mostly unseen). I haven't seen '[Rec]', but I've heard good things about it. I hope it's better than the remake, which sadly shows the P.O.V. formula already growing stale.
'Quarantine' stars Jennifer Carpenter (the title character from 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose') as an annoying bimbo TV reporter on a puff piece assignment to profile some firefighters on a slow news night. The girl is such a nimrod that, when interviewing the men, she shoves her handheld mic in the subjects' faces even though she's already clipped them all with wireless lavs. Over the course of the night, Angela gets to live out her fantasies of sliding down the fire pole, playing a little basketball with the boys, and flirting shamelessly, all captured by her steadfast, extremely bored cameraman. Eventually, a call comes in that might provide a little excitement. There's been a disturbance at an old apartment building downtown. As first responders, the fire truck (Angela and camera guy in tow) arrives on the scene just behind a pair of cops.
The building's residents report an old lady screaming like nothing they've ever heard. Expecting that she might need medical assistance, the firemen break down her door. Inside is one crazy old broad, covered in blood and foamy drool. They try to calm her down, but the bitch attacks them, nearly tearing one man's throat out with her teeth. As his buddies try to race him out to a hospital, they find the entire building locked down, all the doors and windows blocked from outside. They've been quarantined, without explanation. All they know is that something very bad has happened in that building, and it's starting to spread.
'Quarantine' does a decent job of using the P.O.V. format and restricted sets to create a sense of claustrophobic tension and dread. Even though the story is almost entirely limited to one location, the picture has creative sound design and just enough peeks out the windows to prevent it from feeling too stagebound or contrived. At all times, you can feel the outside world crushing down on the characters. The film has some effective shocks and moderate gore, often staged in impressively complex single-take shots that last for minutes on end. Once the action finally revs up, it explodes into zombie chaos very efficiently.
Unfortunately, Angela is an incredibly irritating lead character. Within the first few minutes, I was already hoping she'd just die. The (possibly improvised?) dialogue is banal at best, and the characters too insufficiently developed to care about. The movie really doesn't bring anything new to either the zombie or P.O.V. genres other than combining them, and its de rigueur nihilistic ending is utterly predictable for both. 'Quarantine' certainly isn't the worst of the recent spate of horror remakes, but there's little special about it to stand out as more than a quick cash-in.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Quarantine' comes to Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Like almost all Sony titles, the disc opens with an annoying Blu-ray promo before the main menu to preach to you, the person already watching a Blu-ray disc, about how great the Blu-ray format is.
To give it that TV news footage feeling, 'Quarantine' was shot on digital video. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is presented in the movie's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The appearance is very video-ish, which is actually quite appropriate in this case. However, although the Sony F23 camera used was a 1080p model, the image rarely exhibits what I would consider a 1080p level of detail. This is possibly due to the dim lighting and intentionally erratic focus, but the picture generally looks more like 720p or so. Again, that's not undesirable.
This is a very dark movie, and the Blu-ray will be a challenge for the contrast ratios of most digital displays. Much of the movie is shot in darkened rooms lit only by small pools of light coming from lamps in the background. There are also sections in pitch blackness with only the light mounted on top of the video camera providing a narrow cone of illumination, beyond which everything falls off to absolute black.
If your display can handle it, the disc has striking contrasts and decent, realistic colors. Some color banding artifacts pop up every once in a while, especially during the night vision sequences, but they just contribute to the cinema vérité style.
As similarly happened in 'Cloverfield', the movie's aggressive 5.1 sound mix belies its alleged origins as found footage from a handheld video camera. This is a full-on surround sound experience with directional panning effects throughout the soundstage. If you can suspend that disbelief, it sounds pretty terrific. The mix creates a superbly creepy atmosphere. Sirens outside the building blare constantly. Helicopters circle overhead. The building creeks and groans.
The lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack features sharp effects and plenty of rumbly bass. Gunshots crack with authority. The only weak element is dialogue, which is designed to sound like it's been recorded from handheld and clip-on mics not always aiming at the right subject. As a result, many lines vary in clarity and intelligibility depending on the action of the scene. That's intentional, but it creates a disconnect when placed in the middle of an otherwise slickly-produced audio track.
Just like the simultaneously-released DVD edition, the 'Quarantine' Blu-ray is light on bonus features.
As far as Hollywood remakes of foreign horror movies go, 'Quarantine' may be better than average, but that's not saying much. Although well-staged and slickly-produced, in the end it's a rather generic zombie thriller. For its part, the Blu-ray has pretty good picture quality and great sound, though the supplements are thin. Horror fans will probably find it a worthwhile rental.