It’s now some 10 years after the release of Blair Witch Project and still the effects are being felt. Proving that you can have a mainstream hit with a reliance on imagination instead of big bucks, A-listers or over-used narrative conventions, the likes of Cloverfield and Spanish shocker Rec have carried its seminal template on into the new millennium.
Quarantine, a Hollywood remake of the well-received Rec, offers up the old found footage schtick, this time filmed by a professional TV crew on a routine night’s work. Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter plays Angela Vidal, the archetypal regional news anchor, whose job for the night is to trail a fire crew, cameraman in tow.
One presume’s she’s expecting nothing more engaging than to watch them rescue a few cats trapped up trees. Sadly she picked the wrong night for that, instead she gets the night when they’re called to a block of flats only to discover some sweet old dear with a bit of a frothy mouth thing going on and an unfortunate yen for savagely ripping the flesh from other people’s throats – and passing on the rabid virus.
With Old Mother Hubbard getting a bit bitey, the fire crew, along with a few police officers, seek to get the situation under control and evacuate the building. The authorities have other ideas though, and knowing there’s a deadly epidemic of some kind and fearful of contamination, lock the building down, leaving all the inhabitants quarantined. And so the fun begins.
Quarantine adheres to the old rule of the genre – the fluffier the first 10 minutes, the more ugly it’s gonna get. And get ugly it does. Setting up a claustrophobic setting, heightened by the use of the one POV shakey-cam, the inhabitants are pitched against the sufferers, with obvious shades of 28 Days Later and the Romero zombie films.
Though perhaps a more fitting comparison is Resident Evil, mainly due to the whole thing playing out like the video game - with a barren survivalist premise set up offering little in the way of plot development, it offers a steady stream of carnage, delivered in short sharp shocks, with the gaps filled with people running around looking for a way out. With not even the vaguest interest in developing any characters for us to care about, and with an obvious remit of claret-dispensation, it’s a hollow experience, but a tense white-knuckle one at that. Only the PS3 controller is missing.
Starkly intense and utterly visceral, it’s a film that appeals to the gut rather than the head, and on that level it works, it’s just incredibly flawed. Passing up the chance to tell a story it instead needs to rely on its shock value, but sadly it telegraphs virtually every key moment, while trademark tropes – like the old Man Bites Dog camera on the floor shot – are expected rather than disconcerting.
Possibly the biggest miss is the lack of any satirical depth. While Cloverfield dealt with the intrusive saturation news coverage of events like 9/11, this misses the chance to pass comment on the media’s voyeuristic love of suffering, especially as it’s seen from their viewpoint – any critique of the methods of news gathering would have given a vital texture and meaning to proceedings.
Like eating a ridiculously hot curry, this is about the experience of consumption, rather than the savouring of one. There’s not a whole bunch of fun to be had with it, but if you don’t mind being put through the wringer, you’re in luck.
Starring: Jennifer Carpenter
Directed by: John Erick Dowdle
Extras: Featurettes, commentary