Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s [rec] was probably the best horror film of 2007. They certainly weren’t the first to mine the faux verité of first-person documentary horror, but they made the wise decision to anchor these trappings in old-fashioned truisms (i.e. zombies and demons are scary!) and the results were fantastic. A notable recent trend within the horror genre and without is the digital first-person (Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead) suggesting that the role of the filmmaker is no longer a part of the subject/object relationship, of viewer and camera. The implication here is that Marshall McLuhan’s famous proclamation “The medium is the message” is no longer plausible in an era where the virtual media of television, film and computers are no longer distinct of one another (hence multimedia).
But in more relevant terms, Quarantine is less significant as a cultural artifact than of the American neoliberal economy. To phrase that less pretentiously, when any kind of cinematic gem is found on foreign soil, industry-heads secure the rights, homogenize and assimilate. Regurgitation isn’t a new process in the Hollywood machine, but we seem to be stuck in a hyper-streamlined hell of remakes where it’s the rule rather than the exception. Films are being gobbled up, Americanized and reproduced at such an alarming rate (and speed — reportedly Quarantine was fast-tracked as a remake while [rec] was still in production!) that the existence of a film canon is no longer certain.
I guess if you can ignore the obnoxious path that leads us to Quarantine, there are some merits to be found in the film. Director/writer John Erick Dowdle hews so close to the original that it’s almost a shot-for-shot remake, so the coolness of [rec] is well duplicated. But the dilemma of the remake is ever present: making changes to the source material is risky, lest the appeal be lost, but otherwise what’s the point? And I’m afraid that Quarantine is so similar that there really isn’t a point, save to be rid of those pesky subtitles for an American audience. The only changes wrought to Quarantine, other than a very different (and telling) explanation of the horror, are superficial, augmenting the action with a bit more lurid gore.
The story: reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter, she of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and huge-face fame) and her cameraman (Steve Harris) are doing an overnight program on the activities of firefighters. Responding to a medical call, the crew heads to a spooky old apartment building, meeting a pair of cops and a host of clearly freaked-out residents. Apparently an elderly woman barricaded in her apartment has been shrieking her head off. The crew barges in, attempts to treat her and, well, shit goes the way of 28 Days Later.
Dowdle, following the template of the original, lets the caution and dread develop slowly and to good effect. After being introduced to the central threat (rabid, possessed people), the film relaxes for a while. In a gesture that might be creepier than the actual demon-people, the apartment building is quarantined and sealed, with everyone inside prevented from leaving at gunpoint with no explanation. The immediacy of the herky-jerky berserker-cam filming adds to the spooky atmosphere by limiting the scope and texture of what we’re seeing. Those who aren’t fans of the motion-sickness camerawork of Cloverfield should probably stay away, though this isn’t quite as frenzied in Quarantine.
As I’ve said, this film is a fairly serviceable reenacting of the original. The effects, technique, and acting (except for Carpenter, who ratchets the histrionics to unbearable levels) are all well-disposed to create a fine palette of spookiness for those moved by the spirit of Halloween to seek it out. But beyond that, and especially as an ingenuous film experience, it can be problematic. Whether or not you intend to seek out Quarantine, [rec] is the movie that actually deserves your attention.
Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas and wastes his twenties in grad school(s).
Quarantine / Phillip Stephens
Film | October 14, 2008 | Comments ()