"I don't care what they say! We have to tape everything!"
Just when you thought it was safe to declare low-budget Spanish film [Rec] the greatest horror flick in years, the inevitable Hollywood remake has already hit cinemas barely a year later. Unsurprisingly, Quarantine is an extraordinarily faithful remake of [Rec] - right down to every major narrative beat and scary moment, not to mention the very layout of the multi-storied building has been almost precisely replicated. There's little uncertainty as to why Quarantine was in the can so quickly. Aside from a handful of tweaks hither and thither (as well as the obvious language modification from Spanish to English), it's a brazen facsimile of [Rec] - its faithfulness reminiscent of Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake. John Erick Dowdle isn't so much a director, but a copycat handling someone else's homework. Oh boy, it shows.
Sony's Screen Gems had this remake officially commissioned before principal photography for [Rec] had even been completed. The company clearly perceived the Spanish horror film as the next landmark of the horror genre, taking a genre staple (a zombie plague) and allowing movie-goers to witness it through the immediacy of a handheld camera. [Rec]'s release in America was delayed until well after Quarantine, evidently in an endeavour for Screen Gems to develop a ruse that their film is 100% original. US audiences may have been none the wiser, but for anybody who's caught the original, Quarantine is guaranteed to trigger recurrent uncontrollable bouts of déjà vu.
The fundamental story of [Rec] remains unmodified for its remake: shooting a night-shift reality program, presenter Angela (Carpenter) and cameraman Scott (Harris) are shadowing a crew of Los Angeles firemen on an ostensibly dreary evening. Following a few uneventful hours the firemen respond to a routine 911 call which takes them to a small apartment building. The tenants had called 911 in response to blood-curdling screams coming from an apartment. However they soon learn the inhabitant of said apartment has been infected with something unknown. Following a vicious attack, the authorities swiftly quarantine the entire building - cutting off all entrances, exits and windows. Phones, internet, television and cell phones have also been cut-off. Meanwhile, the heroes are hopelessly trapped inside the building as the unknown virus spreads...converting hosts into bloodthirsty, rabid mutants. As the residents fight to survive and struggle to find a way out of the quarantined building, Scott documents the horrifying experience on camera.
Having viewed [Rec] multiple times, it was possible to recognise scenarios and plot points which have been precisely duplicated in Quarantine. It's a blatant remake severely undermined by unoriginality and its unmistakable Hollywoodness. The noble and dignified firemen have become horny, cheeky and self-centred (this is even acknowledged!). On the other hand, Angela openly flirts with the firemen. The character of Angela has been transformed into a stupid, clichéd American horror movie bimbo. [Rec] featured a strong protagonist concerned with getting a good story. In Quarantine, Angela is tragically Americanised.
In addition, gore levels are higher and characters frequently do stupid things. For example, Scott the cameraman keeps filming and uses the camera to view everything. He even kills an infected person; smashing the lens of the camera into its face! No cameraman would ever do this, and no camera would ever survive the treatment. Another touch of Hollywood: a character tries desperately to escape, and is gunned down as a result. Oh, and Scott the cameraman is an African American. Adhering to the clichés, he's muscle-bound and he kicks butt.
If it ain't broken, don't fix it - this motto should become a law in Hollywood. [Rec] is an original, chilling horror film that succeeds admirably in its execution. Its atmosphere of anxiety is able to keep any viewer riveted throughout the taut running time. [Rec] is also the best entry to the horror genre for a very long time. Remaking it in Hollywood with a bigger budget under the tight studio system is the equivalent of a Hollywood remake of The Blair Witch Project. There's absolutely nothing wrong with [Rec], and a remake shouldn't have been green-lit...let alone within a year of its theatrical debut. Quarantine is unnecessarily longer with extended character development (notably at the beginning of the film) and added Hollywood moments. Scares are far more predictable, and plot developments are too mechanical. The scenarios lifted from [Rec] appear awkward when inserted into this film. From time to time the film also seems lost. It needed brisk pacing and taut duration. Quarantine is instead cumbersome and lumpy - it's cold, lifeless, stiff and sometimes downright excruciating. It has been filmed on studio sets rather than a real apartment block, therefore feeling false and flat. To save time and funds, the Americans should've just produced an English dub of [Rec]...or just not touched the Spanish gem at all!
The central technique of the "found footage" genre (initially made popular after the success of The Blair Witch Project) is to employ handheld camera and give the cameraman a personality - the audience will therefore feel like a participant in the horrifying events. In Hollywood, the genre is rarely done well. The approach has been done to death...the novelty has worn off, and it simply feels gimmicky. It ruins interesting character development (the only time allotted to becoming familiar with the characters grows very boring very quickly) and jettisons the hope of any emotional investment with the characters. Add to this a range of awful performances. They never play the realism card...they play the Hollywood movie card, contradicting the filming technique. While filming [Rec], directorial duo Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza kept a few scares a secret in order for actors to look genuinely terrified. [Rec] felt real. Quarantine does not.
During the action sequences, the shaky cam is too distracting, nauseating and baffling. In Blair Witch and [Rec] the images are still manageable. In this film, however, it's hard to make out what's going on - you just know it's nasty. For these aforesaid action sequences (and at other portions of the movie) there are also distracting jump cuts and unbelievably erratic movements. It's a total mess and Dowdle's directing is appalling! Adding insult to injury, the cameraman never baulks at capturing the gory stuff. On that matter, the gore exudes exploitation. [Rec] was never about exploiting gore, neither was Blair Witch. The "less is more" technique works...this is just ridiculous. Scott the cameraman purposely turns the camera to look at a corpse or a puddle of blood, etc. Understandable if the cameraman turned his head to look, but why turn the whole camera?
Nits are easier to pick in Quarantine, especially with the glaring lack of originality. In spite of all these drawbacks, there are positives. Every so often the film is gripping and nail-biting, as well as somewhat fun and entertaining. The make-up effects are particularly effective as well. The exaggerated gore does scream Hollywood, but it's fun to watch. The greatest strength, though, is the amazing sound design. The constant sirens and helicopters build a palpable panic. There's never any music or a score, which increases the feeling of apprehension. The atmosphere of trepidation is commendably elevated with the use of sounds instead of a score. Okay, so a few scenes manage to make me jump. Not many, though.
Admittedly, the original [Rec] is hardly original; it's a Romero-style zombie outbreak fused with 28 Days Later... in the style of Blair Witch. The concept catches fire as a result of the raw pseudo-documentary style that keeps the zombie nonsense feasible. The excellent rawness has been lost in translation: the film stock is too crisp, the explicit gore too cinematic, and the performances are never quite real enough. Jennifer Carpenter continually feels like an actress playing a reporter. Any edginess has been painted over with a dense layer of Hollywood polish. It's too Hollywood from the word 'go', which begs the question: doesn't a glossy remake of a reality horror defeat the point? But hey - there are far worse films out there (like the 2008 cinematic turds known as Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie), and after suffering a scare-free succession of studio horror offerings a genre fan may be pleased. There are some fun jolts to be had during the film's 90-minute duration - even if they are second-hand. Nevertheless, view [Rec] instead.