In the growing field of Horror, a number of niche markets have arisen. The zombie sub-genre is an entry popularized by George A. Romero and raised to be a dominant force today due in no small part to The Walking Dead franchise. This type of monster draws on a number of fears most people share, be it a horde of creatures, infectious condition (and the paranoia it sows), and a nigh-unstoppable force (one that doesn’t rest with a hunger that can never be satisfied). In the past, zombies were slow-moving that trekked with a stumbled walk. Today, they’re often depicted able to move unhindered (sometimes even superhuman, lacking the limits the human mind naturally places on the body). Certainly all of these elements were in play with the 2008 film Quarantine, directed by John Erick Dowdle (The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Devil) and starring Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and Jay Hernandez (Hostel). Based on the hit 2007 Spanish Horror film [?REC], Quarantine follows Los Angeles reporter Angela Vidal (Carpenter) and her cameraman on a ride along with firefighters who are called to an apartment building for a suspected medical emergency. Subsequently, Vidal, her cameraman, the firefighters, on-scene police, and the building’s residents are unexpectedly quarantined as some sort of fast-acting form of rabies (drawing parallels to the Rage virus in 28 Days Later) spreads throughout those trapped leading the unaffected to desperately seek escape.
While never identified as zombies, the events in the film undoubtedly align closely to the sub-genre (so much so, Quarantine was awarded “Best Zombie Film” in 2009 by the Reaper Awards while that same year at the same award show [?REC] took home “Best Indie/Foreign production”). In addition to zombies, Quarantine also incorporated a relative newcomer to the Horror field in so-called “found footage.” Where Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is often cited as the earliest example of “found footage,” 1999’s The Blair Witch Project made the sub-genre explode but many examples of the technique have felt forced in execution (viewers often wondering why people sporting cameras don’t put them down when danger arises). Quarantine expertly employs the use of first-person footage, initially to capture news for a story to making a record of the atrocities the government permitted due to the quarantine to necessity when the camera’s light and its night vision feature become the only means of sight. The film boasts some of the most well-coordinated, intricate extended sequences of uninterrupted action I’ve ever seen in cinema (only trumped in my opinion by 2010’s Uruguayan Horror film The Silent House). An element that can also be lost due to the emphasis on the fusion of zombie and found footage is that of isolation. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is often considered the scariest movie in cinematic history and much of that comes from its sense of isolation (paired with the blend of Kubrick’s artistic vision and the film’s brilliant acting making it such a classic). The players in Quarantine are placed in something of a maze where as the film expands, the danger rises exponentially as more people turn (as the origins of the disease unravel and patient zero emerges in the finale).
Inevitably, when discussing a remake, comparisons will be drawn to the source material. Comparing Quarantine to [?REC] is almost a shot-for-shot exercise executed much more finely than, say, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the 1998 version with Vince Vaughn (which cloned movement and position but not the original’s spirit). While several differences exist between the works, to Quarantine‘s benefit it has a cleaner, crisper picture as well as incorporating new elements like dealing with infected animals like a rat and dog (reminiscent of Resident Evil) and the closed space of an elevator (all likely due to the film having six times the budget of the original). Perhaps the only alteration Quarantine made that in some ways hurt the film was the change in the virus’ origin. In the original work, the virus was in fact derived from a demonic possession when a priest was trying to find a cure for that growing phenomenon where in the remake it was a rabies-like disease stolen by a doomsday cult in order to bring about the end of days (the former making the product less derivative and opening a new angle to the modern day zombie mythos, almost bringing it back to its mystic roots in a manner). Largely, I would measure the two films as equals however the remake’s larger budget with cleaner and bigger effects give it a slight edge. What both films do extraordinarily well is pace the story as a slow burn that builds toward the finale which develops the ability to instill terror as you’re given a false comfort leading to uneasiness ending in dread and finality. In a way, this draws parallels to the original Paranormal Activity but [?REC] and Quarantine just simply do a superior job of this (not to knock Paranormal Activity, whose budget was $15,000 as the the other two had millions of dollars at their disposal).
Quarantine and [?REC] are simply well done, well executed works that deserve the praise they receive. The only aspect regrettable about Quarantine was its sequel (which few are even aware exists), called Quarantine 2: Terminal, which, sadly, was not the Snakes on a Plane of zombie movies likely due in part in having a third the budget of the original. [?REC], on the other hand, spawned several sequels making it more-or-less Spain’s answer to Paranormal Activity. As in the tradition of big budget sequels, [?REC] goes significantly bigger as its second film involved a GEO team (something akin to SWAT) entering the apartment building and the third deals with a parallel story to the first two films at a wedding party. As the third departed from the source and was harshly criticized, a fourth and final film is set to premiere in Spain this Halloween continuing the original narrative. Therein, the heroine of the first two films is quarantined on an oil tanker in the sea to be examined if she is truly clear of the virus. If you have yet seen Quarantine or [?REC] and its first sequel, they are highly recommended. If you’ve already checked them out and liked them, you may also enjoy 28 Days Later, The Silent House, The Descent, La Horde, You’re Next, Dead Snow (which has a sequel that premiered recently in select theaters in the US), and V/H/S (which has two sequels; the latest recently premiered on Video on Demand). As you can likely tell, I’m quite the fan of foreign Horror films.
As an aside, if you haven’t seen The Shining yet, you’re missing out. Entire books, websites, and documentaries have been made examining it and with good reason.