by Jason Coffman
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Even as the J-horror remake trend seems to be on its last legs with the box office failures of One Missed Call and Shutter, the practice of remaking recent foreign films so that the American audience doesn’t have to read subtitles continues with no end in sight. The latest example of this is Quarantine, an American remake of a Spanish film released just last year called REC. REC has been a huge success on the film festival circuit and in bootleg circles— this year’s horror conventions have been packed with bootleg and import DVD versions of the film. The original film’s reputation is well-deserved: it’s a fast-paced, scary gut punch. Coming just a year after the original, Quarantine perhaps unsurprisingly works best when it directly mimics the action of REC.
The basic plot lines are identical: reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter of TV’s Dexter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) are doing an episode of a show that follows people who work while most people are asleep. This week’s episode is about a local fire department. Angela does short interviews, slides down the fire pole, and flirts a bit with firefighter Jake (Jay Hernandez). Late into the night, a call comes in and Angela and Scott accompany Jake and Fletch (Johnathon Schaech) to an old apartment building where neighbors of an elderly woman are concerned after hearing screams and other noises coming from her apartment.
Once in the apartment, the firefighters, Angela, and Scott meet up with the police who arrived first on the scene. While trying to help the old woman, she violently attacks one of the policemen and soon everyone in the building is trapped when government forces appear and quarantine the building. It soon becomes clear that the government has no interest in getting the people inside the building out, and everyone must band together to find a way out of the building alive with armed forces outside and bloodthirsty monsters lurking somewhere inside.
Quarantine seems to spend more time at the start at the fire department, building the characters of Angela, Scott, and the firemen more than REC. Once the action moves to the apartment building, the running, screaming, and bleeding hardly lets up. While REC gave the inhabitants of the building some screen time, nearly all of those character moments are ditched to make room for more violent set pieces. There are several important points where the film deviates from the original, and almost all the additions take away from the “reality” of the story. The worst example of this is a scene in which Scott beats back one of the monsters with the camera— honestly, for me this scene destroyed any sense of credibility the film had created up to this point.
For anyone who hasn’t seen REC, Quarantine is a reasonable facsimile, but it’s clearly weaker than the original. They’re both interesting takes on the “handheld horror” or “first-person horror” subgenre popularized by The Blair Witch Project but only recently picked up by more mainstream films such as Cloverfield. For anyone who has seen REC, however, Quarantine doesn’t really bring anything new to the table— the big scares are replicated almost shot-for-shot, and what little is new is of dubious quality. Still, there aren’t many horror films out right now for the Halloween season, and Quarantine will do in a pinch. Just remember to check your brain at the box office.
Jason Coffman is a freelance film critic living in Chicago.
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