EDITOR'S NOTE: “Quarantine” opened in theaters last Friday but was not screened for critics.
“Quarantine” is a movie testament to craftsmanship and commitment. The best “Blair Witch” knockoff of them all is basically a zombie movie seen through the viewfinder of a TV news camera – that “found footage” “Blair Witch Project” conceit.
But think about what it takes to make that come off – the camera blocking and staging, the choreography that gets our stars and the lights and mikes and camera from one perfect spot to capture what's happening to the next perfect spot, with enough jarring, jumpy bumps in the Steadicam to make it all so nauseatingly real.
And the actors are working in long takes. That means pages of script at a time, no lazy short edits to cover blown lines or players dropping out of character. Jennifer Carpenter, playing the too-thin, too-young, too-flirty TV reporter whose “ride along” with firemen turns into a zombie virus nightmare, gives a performance that harks back to the Golden Age of Jamie Lee Curtis. Yeah, she's that good.
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No, the script isn't anything special and the novelty long ago wore off in this style of moviemaking. But the execution in this film from John Erick Dowdle (he also did the similarly constructed “Poughkeepsie Tapes”) is amazing, the camera work and cutting perfect.
“Quarantine” is a remake of “[REC],” a Spanish horror thriller about a reporter and a cameraman who get more than they bargained for when they do a story on the night shift at a fire station. An ambulance call takes them to an old apartment building. An old lady is sick, foaming at the mouth and covered in blood. Before they can get her out, she's bitten others and the building is instantly sealed off, SWAT snipers preventing anybody from leaving. One by one, the residents (Greg Germann plays a vet) and the first responders are picked off, official reassurances that “this'll all be over soon” not being very reassuring at all.
The confines of the old, dark building create paranoia, the sound effects (sirens and helicopters) add to it.
And as Angela, Carpenter (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) avoids the shallow, vapid TV news-babe clichés. She's just a young woman fighting back hysteria by doing her job and yelling “Film EVERYTHING!” As this lean “Masque of the Red Death” unfolds, she reacts the way most of us would. She hyperventilates.
The jerky motion of the camera may make you sick because this sort of horror isn't to every taste. But “Quarantine” is the first of the “Blair Witch” clones to rip it off without embarrassing those doing the ripping off.