I am not exactly fond of remakes. True, some of my favorite films like Cronenberg's "The Fly" and Carpenter's "The Thing" were major remakes which are arguably better than the original. I do somewhat believe that sometimes remakes are necessary because of the generation and the age of the original. However, the recent remakes of Asian horror were more disasters than successes. (I think "The Ring" was the last decent Asian horror remake) "Quarantine" (2008) is an almost shot-for-shot remake of 2007's highly successful Spanish horror film "REC". Directed by John Erick Dowdle, the film is actually a decent "Americanized" version, too bad I saw "REC" (see my review here) and that would be my standpoint in reviewing this film. I wonder how come it is taking too long for the original to be released in U.S. shores? (usually the original gets released along with the remake's theatrical debut, so what happened?)
Angela (Jennifer Carpenter, Exorcism of Emily Rose) is a TV reporter assigned to cover the mundane details in a fireman's routine. The events in that evening is very uneventful, Angela is just hanging out with the local firemen, until a call for help comes in. Angela with her cameraman tags along two local firemen (Jay Hernandez & Jonathan Schaeck) who responds to a call in an apartment building. The call seems pretty routine; helping an elderly resident seems simple enough; until a problem arises and they end up becoming isolated from the outside world. Which would be the least of their worries, as the tenants become infected by a virus that causes them to crave human flesh.
"Quarantine" follows the original almost shot-for-shot, with a very similar premise and very minor changes. Both films utilize the first person view, shot through the eyes of a cameraman using a DV camera, a little shaky in cinematography but hey, I guess the style is part of the film. "REC" was shorter at 79 minutes, which resulted in a leaner, more intense and scary screenplay. "Quarantine" had a longer introduction, more folks are turned, one tenant is shot, there're added scenes with a dog and a rat, and some minor changes in its characters. The Asian couple in "REC" has been replaced by an Ethiopian couple, the apartment manager has been changed from an older homosexual man to an unkempt European man, the medical intern becomes a vet and a meek fireman becomes a macho stud. "Quarantine" maybe "beefier"--but it isn't exactly "meatier". The changes aren't really significant and feels less than redesigns but more due to character appearances.
The added scenes does set some needed groundwork for the minor alterations to its script, but it does make the chase sequences a little repetitive. This is after all essentially a simple chase film, with humans fleeing "zombied-out" tenants that are amazingly quick and inhumanly feral like those in "28 Days Later". The screenplay by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle is an almost mirror image of "REC"; it begins and ends at the same point, follows the original‘s scenes almost frame by frame. "Quarantine" does have a few more scenes of kills, but it also does nothing different in the manner it generates scares from the way it frames its shots; some scenes looked very repetitive after awhile. Remember I said, beefier but NOT meatier.
As for the source of the disturbance, while "REC" downplays any solid explanations that keeps the viewer wondering up, "Quarantine" does give it full exposition. "REC" has the guts to ask the question: what exactly is going on? Is this something demonic as the Vatican seemed to be involved or is it something biological? "Quarantine" says " we have a form of virus based on super-rabies that causes people to act this way". I don't know what you prefer, but the Dowdle's explanations seemed pretty predictable and similar to the horror film "Mulberry Street", another zombie film with a form of rabies-mutation.
The lead performers in the two films are almost on par with each other. Jennifer Carpenter is an awesome actress, and I've always been impressed with her since "The Exorcism of Emily Rose". The woman can indeed scream and emulate emotional reactions. Now, Manuela Velasco who plays the lead in "REC" is no slouch either; she can indeed make the viewer sympathize with her harrowing ordeal. One thing made me tip the scales to Velasco, she is sexier and looks more like a TV personality than Carpenter. Don't get me wrong, Carpenter is pretty with a tad of a tomboyish charm, but Velasco is voluptuously sexier and emits the qualities of a TV personality a bit more.
Two claustrophobic horror films, stacked up against each other. "REC" was raw, very edgy and way rougher, while "Quarantine" is more polished and refined. Actually, Dowdle's direction is a little too polished for a film with this concept and it is quite ironic that his more polished visuals made me appreciate "REC" even more. I think it is because Hollywood wants a shaky camera technique, but not too shaky--this is were it becomes a "gimmick" to emulate a "reality feel". Ask yourself, would you bother keeping a camera in focus when you're running for your lives? Gaps, equipment malfunction, very unfocused camera work should be part of the cinematography. The final act in "REC" is also a lot more freaky. This is where "REC" truly wins over "Quarantine".
However, both are good horror films, and while "REC" does indeed have the advantage in generating claustrophobia; I am happy to say that "Quarantine" is one of the most entertaining American horror films of 2008 (Hollywood horror hasn't really offered much). Dowdle's work won't be a classic and does lose some points in originality but it is a fun little film. "REC" and "Quarantine" are both lacking in engaging characters and while the original was simple and intense; this remake is more your Hollywood fare. I gave "REC" a highly recommended rating here, and I do recommend "Quarantine" so you can see how it gets beautified and polished. It all depends on what you are looking for. My vote is for simple execution for a simple concept.
Recommended! [3+ Out of 5 Stars]
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