Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Quarantine / *** (R)

Angela Vidal: Jennifer Carpenter
Scott Percival: Steve Harris
Jake: Jay Hernandez
George Fletcher: Jonathan Scheach
Danny Wilenski: Columbus Short
James McCready: Andrew Fiscella
Yuri Ivanov: Rade Serbedzija
Lawrence: Greg Germann
Bernard: Bernard White
Sadie: Diana Ramriez

Screen Gems presents a film directed by John Erick Dowdle. Written by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle. Based on the motion picture “[Rec]” by Jaume Balagueró & Luiso Berdejo & Paco Plaza. Running time: 89 min. Rated R (for bloody violent and disturbing content, terror and language).

It’s one of those human-interest stories. We see a young reporter. Is this one of her first stories? She’s putting together a piece on “a night in the life of an L.A. firehouse.” Her cameraman is filming everything because he’s been told he never gets enough B-roll. She’s awkward on camera at times but charming. The firemen like her for more than just something new in the routine of the firehouse. Everybody is just waiting for that big call.

After a good amount of patience to establish the premise that all of this story will take place from the point of view of the reporter through the lens of her cameraman’s camera, that call comes. One of the firemen informs the reporter that most calls to the fire department are actually medical in nature. They arrive at an apartment building and investigate a woman who has locked herself in her apartment. Once the landlord lets them into the apartment they find she is conscious but unresponsive to their questions. That is until she savagely attacks one of police officers on the scene.

These point of view mockumentary horror films are becoming a bit of a trend these days. January saw the release of the point of view creature feature “Cloverfield”. But unlike “Cloverfield” the action of “Quarantine” is much easier to follow, and the camera work is less jittery. Having a professional cameraman as the character handling the camera work of the story allows for a much more focused and well-framed picture. Also the filmmakers have accounted for the fact that any self-preservationist would stop filming at some point; once power is cut to the building, the camera’s light is about the only source of light left available to the heroes.

While the bouncing camera won’t give as many people motion sickness, the nature of the horror may turn a few more stomachs. The filmmakers have provided a more realistic explanation of what might turn people into vicious flesh-eaters—a notion similar to the one provided in “28 Days Later”. But the CDC is onto the viral outbreak before the people in the apartment building have even realized anything is really wrong, forcing them to try to deal with a savage attack and the fact that they are trapped inside at once. By cutting their characters off from the outside world, the filmmakers create a more claustrophobic experience than the typical zombie movie.

Jennifer Carpenter makes her bid here to be the new scream queen as the reporter Angela. Coming off other horror-related projects like “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and the television series “Dexter”, Carpenter proves to have likeability similar to that of Jamie Lee Curtis during her reign as scream queen in the early eighties. The establishing scenes at the firehouse allow her to warm the audience. And since she is rarely ever off camera, she shows strength of presence in the way she carries the audience along her terrifying ride.

Director/co-writer John Erick Dowdle and his brother co-writer Drew Dowdle borrowed their story from a Spanish film “[Rec]”. The Brothers Dowdle do a great job structuring their film with little clues as to what is really going on and how it came about, but they keep the focus squarely on the terror of the victims. By placing the audience in the point of view of a participant they increase the audience’s visceral reaction to the material and the whole thing makes for a thrilling and terrifying time. I just hope the CDC got that stuff contained.

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