Thursday, October 16, 2008

Q is for Quarantine

A few months ago I mocked an article lamenting the state of the horror movie, and pointing to the Spanish-language films The Orphanage and Rec as showing the way to--oh, hell, I don't even know what the guy was going on about.

But here we are seven months later and we have the American remake of Rec called Quarantine.

It's not bad.

Viewing it touched on a lot of themes that have been bubbling in my head since I've been computer-free at night.

  • A thread over at the Althouse had people singing the praises of watching movies at home, which (with the brood here) I can't relate to. And particularly not with horror movies, and even comedies. The audience was particularly chatty and laughy during this, which undermines my point a little.
  • There's a certain type of film I call "House of Usher" films: A sort of film where the ending is a foregone conclusion due to circumstances that occurred before the movie started. Ironically Corman's House of Usher isn't one of those films. Neither is Quarantine, even though the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
  • Horror movies try to do something very, very difficult. It's hard to be scared by a movie these days, and it's even hard to be horrified. We're all a little too "meta". As a result, a successful horror scene often results in laughter. (The famous "head-spider" scene in John Carpenter's The Thing, for example.) In Quarantine, there's a scene where the camera is used as an actual weapon.
I'll go a bit more into some of these ideas in a later post.

Quarantine is a good balance of terror and horror, with suspense connecting the scenes. The actors are not super-famous (there's Dexter's sister in lead--you see her getting killed in the commercials and on the movie poster, hence no real question of how this movie turns out, even before the movie starts, and there's the wattle-fetish guy from "Ally McBeal") which works in the movie's favor.

So, some firemen go to investigate a problem at a small L.A. apartment building and find tenants suffering from a mysterious disease. But when they try to get out, they can't.

Where most horror movies have the victims hoping to hold out until help arrives, in this move help arrives--and makes everything far, far worse. The idea is that the CDC has locked everyone in to contain the disease, and they've got SWAT to kill anyone who tries to escape.

How's that for a kick in the krotch?

One of the reasons this is not an "Usher" movie is that it's perfectly reasonable that the people could survive the situation, but they do a whole lot of stupid things. Like everyone sits together in the lobby with the infected. It might be understandable why the CDC would kill the outgoing phones, but it's less comprehensible why they cut the incoming cable and the power.

Also, I'm not clear on why they wouldn't try to route everyone out of the house, one at a time, since there's still a chance of escape of the disease if nothing else. I think you'd route everyone out and then burn the place down, if you were worried. Or maybe chemical bomb it. (I wonder what the actual CDC protocols are, come to think of it.)

Anyhoo. We got the standard trapped-inside-a-house deal with a little Blair Witch thrown in: We only get to see the events that transpire because Dexter's sister (heh, okay, her name is Jennifer Carpenter in real life) is a documentarian doing a story on firemen who tags along with her cameraman, expecting a routine call.

The camera is less shaky than usual, thankfully, but if you get the nausea or carsickness, you're not going to like the end at all. The camera, sensibly but annoyingly, gets shakier and shakier as the movie goes on.

This partly obscures the fact that this is a pretty tired premise used for most zombie movies, and you're really just dealing with that.

Nonetheless, it's well done. I was a little confused as to whether I was supposed to be rooting for these guys. "Yay! Get out and...infect everyone?" Isn't that the premise of the second and third Resident Evil movies?

Getting away from the fact that most horror movies are Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians", right?

I was looking for the demon baby but there really isn't one. The thing that looks like it is not a baby at all but the most recognizable guy in the movie: Doug Jones, whose miming talents (as seen in The Fantastic Four, Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy I and especially II) are making him very recognizable indeed, for a guy who seldom says anything. (Kind of like how Ray Park's karate moves were so recognizable after The Phantom Menace and Sleepy Hollow.)

Anyway, it worked for me and The Boy also approved. But I don't know if it will survive the transition to small screen.


  1. Cool I'll go see this one. As I said in the above post, I love, love, love horror.

  2. This one was not graphic by modern standards. There's a compound fracture--kind of the go to "ewww" effect in horror these days--but again, darkness is used to good effect.

    Also, they could've gone the Cronenberg route (see Rabid and Shivers) and made everything super-gross disease-y, but they didn't. (Thankfully.)


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