Quarantine (2008), or The Shaky Camera Blues

9 08 2009

Did anyone else see Cloverfield? It was a point-of-view monster movie that came out a couple years ago. It razzled and dazzled audiences with a hot premise that was made all the more intriguing to people due to its inherent implausibility combined with its innovative use of modern technology. It was about a going-away party for a twenty-something going to Japan interrupted by a monster attack on New York City (!!!). Sounds crazy, I know, but what set Cloverfield apart was its use of the concept of found footage. Because the setup for this movie was that it was all found on the young man’s camcorder after the attack, and that it was the personal journey of the man and his friends rather than the army suiting up to deal with it as usual. On that note, it was a tremendous success. So the formula was tried again and again with varying degrees of success. While there were a few Diary of the Dead-like misfires (urgh…), I believe it has been a positive movement for the most part. Today’s feature is one of those successes; Quarantine is good thriller/horror. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it doesn’t let up for a moment.

It’s about TV correspondent Angela Vidal and her cameraman during a routine trip to the L.A. Fire Dept. for an assignment. It’s a lot of fun for her and the firefighters until they’re called out to an apartment complex and discover nothing there is as it seems. They’re responding to a distress call they received involving screams coming from an old lady’s apartment. When they arrive, they find she is bloody, foaming at the mouth, and very angry. She’s so angry that she attacks a police officer by biting him on the neck and pushes a grown firefighter from a flight of stairs to the bottom floor. Before they can get their bearings and get out, however, a S.W.A.T. team comes in and seals them inside the building! Oh no! Well, they’re all trapped, even the police, the firefighters, and Angela. They’re told that they are all to be quarantined until further notice, and as more and more people become infected with the same symptoms that befell the weird violent old lady, it seems clear why. Can Angela survive this harrowing ordeal without becoming one of the violent, crazed infected? Or will she too become victim to this horrifying new contagion?

This point-of-view terror rivals Cloverfield in terms of intensity. The last 30 minutes of this of this movie had me teetering on the verge of collapse! This follows almost every step of a single 90 minute span during a single night of filming a segment for TV gone horribly wrong. The banter between cameraman and anchor, sometimes moving, sometimes humorous, sets the stage for a friendship that seems to take place between Angela and the audience at certain points and the actual cameraman, named Scott. We don’t cut away for a moment. We’re there from the get-go, and when things go sour we feel the sickening pang in our stomach as well. It’s a very powerful device to get us to care about these obviously fictional characters.

Effects aren’t the proper word here; the subterfuge for this piece of fake found footage is exceptional. At every step we are confronted with this eerie smattering of reality all around that makes us feel as if we’ve discovered something that we shouldn’t have. And that’s a powerful feeling. Surely you’ve felt it before when you watched a scary movie as a child. When I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street at the tender age of 8. Looking back, I don’t think I was afraid of it because it was SOOOO scary, but more like it was something forbidden, something I shouldn’t have been watching. I’ll watch it now without any fear of nightmare men jumping out to get me, but that powerful fear of forbidden and frightening knowledge persists in me, and that feeling kept creeping up on me near the end of Quarantine, and I appreciated the reminder.

The acting isn’t Oscar-worthy, but I didn’t see Michael Shannon in the cast, so I figured as much. Jennifer Carpenter is pretty good as Angela Vidal. She brings that Exorcism of Emily Rose energy to the cast, and I can definitely dig on that idea. Steve Harris also brings a lot of enthusiasm to the movie as Scott the cameraman. He is our eyes, and through him we witness the horror of the quarantine. He may be following Angela, but it is his dedication to her and his willingness to be brave for the sake of the shot that really resonates. Everyone else is kinda your typical disaster movie hang-arounds. The annoying artsy couple, the confused foreign couple, and all the other tenants feel a little tired and played, while the firefighters seem like generic do-gooders that lack the personality in the quarantine zone that they showed in the fire-house. Not my cup of tea, but they didn’t exactly scar the movie beyond repair.

Quarantine is a movie you should watch in the dark. It’s a claustrophobic nightmare that explores two of our greatest fears; disease and each other. It packs a lot of bite into 85 minutes, and at that point, it really is worth your time. Don’t listen to the internet murmurs of “Cloverfield clone”. That’s about as true as Jaws being a clone of Close Encounters of the Third Kind because Richard Dreyfuss is nerdy and pensive in both of them. Just because one aspect is the same doesn’t mean all of them are. Decide for yourself; but I officially recommend Quarantine to anyone who cares with a rousing 8 POV scares out of 10.

Tomorrow we peek into 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag!

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