DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: QUARANTINE

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

QUARANTINE


Quarantine (2008) dir. John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Jennifer Carpenter, Jay Hernandez, Steve Harris, Jonathan Schaech

**1/2

“Quarantine” tests the waters once again of the fake video camera films like “Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield”. Told from the point of view of a news crew on a story about LA Fire Fighters, a zombie horror crisis arises in a locked down tenement building. It’s a remake of the Spanish horror flick “Rec” directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza of which I confess not having seen, so I can’t say, “the original was better’. So take this review as unbiased.

It’s Los Angeles and a young, ambitious and spritely TV news reporter Angela Videl (Jennifer Carpenter) is doing a story on fire fighters. From the point of view of the TV camera we follow her through the fire hall and meet the fun loving working class fireman who gab and joke around with typical male machismo. When a call goes out for a fire, finally Angela gets the action she’s been waiting for.

She and the cameraman (still rolling) tag along covering every moment of the action. When they arrive at the building it’s just a medical emergency, a crazed woman frothing at the mouth has to be subdued by two cops. No big deal right? Wrong. When they think all is well, the body of one of the cops is dropped over the staircase rail to his death. WTF? More and more people start exhibiting strange behaviour. Before long Angela and her pals are in a Romero zombie film. When they find themselves locked in or “Quarantined’ it becomes a clausterphobic game of survival – all in front of the cameras.

I had a major problem with “Cloverfield’s” stylistic starting point – the point of view camera. While it’s an interesting way to tell a story, for me it never enhances the story beyond what could be told with traditional coverage. In "Quarantine" since the camera is actually a TV ENG camera, the picture quality and camerawork is broadcast worthy so we’re saved from the nauseating handycam shake of "Cloverfield". Thank god.

Though the presence of the POV camera is meant to create a world of reality, the filmmakers are still manipulating us with traditional cinema techniques. For example, there’s a scene toward the end when Angela fearfully avoids a meandering zombie. She covers underneath a desk while watching the scary beast wander around. The camera holds on Angela’s close-up instead of the zombie. This is cinema, not reality. If this were a real newsman, he’d film the zombie – a much more compelling image than the news reporter. This is the image I wanted to see as the viewer as well. But Dowdle is a filmmaker before he is a newsman and so his cinema instincts is to show the reaction of his character instead of the action itself. By not showing the zombie he’s teasing the audience (like Spielberg not showing the shark). It works for cinema but not for news. 

This is just one example of the contradiction this new POV technique never gets right, and why “Cloverfield” and “Quarantine” is frustratingly distracting. The irony is that the technique actually gets in the way of the story, as opposed to freeing it up.

But how is the film you ask? Even though rabies is the disease, it’s still a zombie movie – but a decent zombie movie, as cynical and uncompromising as any in the genre. Though Jennifer Carpenter becomes more and more annoying as the picture moves along we genuinely care about Dowdle's characters and want them to escape. Genre fans not bothered by the style will be stimulated by this decent genre film.

“Quantantine” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on Feb 17



5 comments :

Andrew D. Wells said...

One reason I liked this movie better than Cloverfield was that they actually came up with a reason to keep the camera on after they got to the point where it was ridiculous to keep filming. The CDC cut all power to the building and the camera was their only source of light. Now, do you need to keep filming to keep the light for the camera on? Probably not, but I was willing to accept that they kept filming in all the confusion of what was happening.

The example you cite as manipulative I believe happens after the point where the power has been cut. The camera man is long past being a news man at that point. My understanding of the scene was that he was keeping the camera pointed at her so he could see her.

Photography is manipulation. You can't have a film without it.

You can check out my take on "Quarantine" here.

Alan Bacchus said...

Agreed Andrew. I wasn't too bothered with the need to keep rolling the camera. I think I'm bothered by why filmmakers feel the need to tell a story that way. I think it's a gimmick that can't last too long. Though, who thought the mockumentary would persist as as genre?

Your review is surprisingly similar to mine, except for Jennifer Carpenter maybe.

Anonymous said...

I HATED THIS MOVIE! I don't generally like the camera POV genre. Why introduce the camera as a character when the traditional way of movie making works so much better. "Cloverfield" was bad enough but this was worse. I did not think that the acting was very good and in fact I think that there was some significant over-acting by some of the players. This movie was so bad that I was unable to finish it. This type of crap is one of the reasons I don't go to movies much anymore. What a waste of good money!

Anonymous said...

you were just too scared too finish it

shadefeind said...

I liked the movie. I don't mind the POV style. Its almost becoming a new genre in itself. And as a film maker (wanna be at least) its easy to relate to people wanting to film the events they are going through. Although Cloverfield the guy with the camera wasn't a camera man in any way, he stated his reasoning just like any camera man would "people need to see what is happening". Though i do agree with the part of the camera man filming the reporter instead of the zombie. But Romero's last zombie movie is actually done the same way. Diary of the Dead, in which a film school student is in the process of filming a mummy movie in the woods for school, when the events start to take place, he already has his crew and gear so he goes from horror director to documentary director, and he does a monologue in which he states "he is grateful for the opportunity to document whats going on". which i like because it gives insight into the growing POV style films. If any film maker or camera man has a camera in access, they are ready to film everything, so as you fellows may not like these style of films because of the lack of regular cinematic styles i enjoy them because its reaching out to those of us who can relate to the desire to record all the events we see and live through, our desire to film, and as a huge zombie genre fan i can say i could not resist the need to film it, though personally i would rig it to be hands free, cuz when dealing with zombies, you need weapons.