Sunday, October 12, 2008

John Erick Dowdle's QUARANTINE

Sometimes a smart movie is simply an entertaining movie. And sometimes an entertaining movie has no more intellect than roller coaster ride. Quarantine is as straightforward as you average roller coaster—simple, predictable, and, if you are interested in such things, fun. Like a martyr, I'll take it upon myself to give voice to this critically cast aside film that seeks an audience who could care less about reviews.

Quarantine is another bastard child of first-person video forays that found marketable legitimacy in The Blair Witch Project and reality television. Let's forget about placing hyperbolic intellectual properties to this style and call it a market driven format that has low production costs with potentially high returns. And God knows, if there is something that "works" (i.e. makes money), Hollywood will keep doing it until it doesn't work. Quarantine acknowledges this with a refreshing candor and absolutely no pretense. It's low budget; it's horror; have a good time.

We're watching unedited footage from a program presumably called Night Shift, shot by cameraman Scott and hosted by the perky but amateur Angela. This episode features the LA Fire Department and we watch as Angela interviews the captain and crew and maintains a good attitude with locker room jokes and crass comments. Angela and Scott are mostly just killing time in hopes that they get to go on a call. As luck would have it, once we have gotten to know a couple of the firefighters just enough to be invested in their characters, they sirens go off. The call is to an apartment building where neighbors have heard a woman screaming. Well, as you may have guessed, this woman has turned into some kind of maniacal flesh eating humanoid who moves very slow until she gets hungry. As it would happen, the woman is carrying a contagion that is passed through bodily fluids. The authorities seal the people in to contain the spread of the "disease" and a mayhem that you might be able to imagine ensues.

Quarantine had a pretty major marketing campaign, with a hard hitting trailer that was able to get your adrenaline pumping in no time. The lack of a press screening for the film would generally mean that the film sucks, and while it is no Casablanca, the people who decide to spend their hard earned money on this movie are not looking for Casablanca. I appreciate Quarantine for not trying to be too clever or cheeky. We are not burdened with the subtext of "these tapes were discovered in an abandon building six months after blah blah blah" or rationalizing for an irrational plot. The camera just keeps rolling and once everyone in the building has been consumed by their rapid brethren, movie over! (Fortunately, one of the last ones to bite it is the cameraman.) No prologue; no epilogue; we get it.

I like a good roller coaster in the same way I like a good horror film. Scare me a little bit and get my heart pumping and I've gotten my $6 worth. Quarantine does its job. (For what its worth, lead actress Jennifer Carpenter deserved some credit for going from perky TV host, to serious shit-hits-the-fan anchor, to a woman over the edge displaying a sustained hysteria that's impressive.) Given the bloated egos of many of the films in theaters right now (Blindness, Body of Lies, Appaloosa, Eagle Eye, Righteous Kill), I'll take Quarantine any day.

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