Dir: John Eric Dowdle. US. 2008. 89 mins.
A remake of the 2007 Spanish cult hit [Rec], Quarantine is a passably-engaging claustrophobic horror told entirely via hand-held footage shot by one of its characters (a la Cloverfield or Blair Witch). The story - about a television reporter who accompanies a group of firefighters into a Los Angeles tenement building, only to be sealed in after encountering a mutant strain of rabies - works for a while as a stylistic exercise before descending into nonsensical confusion.
Quarantine opened in the US on Friday without the benefit of advance screenings for critics: although its $14.2m tally wasn't enough to dethrone family film Beverly Hills Chihuahua, it nonetheless finished with the top per-screen average of the weekend, outgrossing fellow new openers The Express, Body Of Lies and City of Ember.
Skipping any introductory credits, the movie opens with human interest reporter Angela Vidal (Carpenter) and her cameraman, Scott (Harris), on site with a Los Angeles fire department crew. Two firemen (Hernandez and Schaech) are assigned as their guides for the evening, and some good-natured flirting ensues between Angela and the guys.
Responding to a late-night call with Angela and Scott in tow, the firefighters, as well as some policemen, come upon an elderly woman who bites one of the officers. When they attempt to get medical help, they discover they are now sealed in the building. With no power, cell phone reception or immediate answers about their predicament, panic mounts. Soon some of the other residents - including a vet, an accountant and an immigrant couple - succumb to bites from both infected animals and humans, setting off a mad dash by survivors to try to barricade themselves away from the frenzied, foaming-mouthed diseased.
Quarantine posits itself as an exercise in found footage, with Scott mostly talking off camera and only occasionally appearing when the camera is knocked from his hands or momentarily passed to another party. The film spends the first 10 to 12 minutes establishing the characters of Angela and the firemen, but then settles into a jumbled besiegement that essentially unfolds in real-time.
Director John Eric Dowdle (The Poughkeepsie Tapes) does a good job blending lurking, corner-of-one's-eye mayhem with some in-camera effects (one memorable sequence finds Scott using the camera as a blunt-force weapon), but the script has trouble establishing a clear timeline.
Also, somewhat fatally, there's never a keen sense of space established within the building. This renders much of Quarantine's shaky-cam action especially unclear and unsatisfying. And a finale which attempts to further clarify the origin of the strain of rabies comes across as very puzzlingly conceived, and entirely at cross purposes with the nature of the entire rest of the story.
Carpenter, who previously made an impression in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, delivers a solid, high-energy performance that appropriately increases in intensity as the movie wears on.
Sony Pictures Entertainment
John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle
Based on the motion picture [Rec] by
Jaume Balaguero & Luis Berdejo & Paco Plaza
Jon Gary Steele