Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris
2 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
Fans of "The Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" can now rejoice. "Quarantine" continues the tradition of wobbly, hand-held "You are there" fright films. Depending on whether or not you've taken your Dramamine, you'll think either think "Quarantine" is a fast-paced hair-raiser, or a stomach churning, frustrating mess. As far as I'm concerned, "Quarantine" should be buried beneath the set's fake cobblestone floor with a "do not dig up until hell freezes over" sticker on it.
"Quarantine" is never dull; it's just difficult to follow. The premise is a good one, but the film isn't. It's lifted from the Spanish film "Nec." Well, senorita, mucho cohesion was lost in the translation.
It all beings innocently enough (as most horror films do) with television reporter Angel Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter, whose performance degenerates as people's vitals are being torn out) is filming a documentary about a fire company in New York City. It's all risqué jokes about poles and hoses until the company responds to an emergency call in an apartment building. Mrs. Espinoza (Jeannie Epper, growling like a distempered Terrier), a reclusive old woman, was heard screaming in her apartment and her neighbors fear she's hurt. High-strung cop Danny Wilensky (Columbus Short, successfully alternating between don't-f-with-me and hysteria), leads a police/fire department detail into Mrs. Espinoza's dimly lit living room to find out what's going on. Mrs. Espinoza attacks an officer, tearing at his neck as if it was a pork chop, leaving Wilensky no recourse but to shoot her. Wilensky rounds up the tenants, who rapidly begin to exhibit the same signs Mrs. Espinoza displayed before she turned into a foaming at the mouth buzz saw. It's not long before the vestibule looks like a Bronx ER on a Saturday night.
The tenants are offed one by one, only to return as flesh-craving zombies -- hardly an endorsement for apartment living in the Big Apple. The building turns into a slaughter house as the tenants, firemen and police treat each other like appetizers. The survivors run from room to room in an effort to escape from being devoured, with every chomp and retaliatory crushing blow caught on tape.
There are a lot of familiar faces in "Quarantine," but most are on screen just long enough to be on the menu. Dana Ramirez (Maya Herrera in "Heroes") is spunky Latino lady Sadie; frequent "Law and Order" guest star Dennis O'Hare plays an obstinate, drunken tenant, and Greg Germann (Eric "Rico" Moyer on "Ned and Stacey," and Richard Fish on "Ally McBeal") is the concerned veterinarian who diagnoses the symptoms that are turning the shut-ins into frothing, flesh eating zombies. The stuntman's stuntman, Doug Jones, who played the Silver Surfer in the last Fantastic Four flick and Abe Sapien in "Hellboy," oozes onto the screen as "Thin Infected Man." He deserves a Gold Card hospitalization plan from the Screen Actor's Guild for suffering through the film's final backbreaking scenes while resembling a breaded chicken cutlet with eyes.
I usually quote a passage of dialogue from each movie I review. Quarantine's best line is first uttered by Mrs. Espinoza: "AHHHHGGGGHHHH!"
Marin Hinkle, (uptight Judith in "Two and a Half Men"), plays a mom protecting her hollow-eyed, hacking daughter. Her hysterical rants help dial up the tension. One look at Marin bear-hugging her blonde-haired, pasty cherub and you know it's not going to end well for her. Pity, she's good at neurotic roles and deserved a more fleshed out character. (Yeah, I know. Get thee to a pun-ery).
Steve Harris (Eugene White in "The Practice") is seldom seen as cameraman Scott - a mistake since he's instantly recognizable. On the other hand, Jennifer Carpenter (Debra Morgan on "Dexter") should have had her screen time cut more harshly than Marie Antoinette's bouffant. In the early scenes at the fire house she's a watchable Gen X entertainment sleuth, jesting inappropriately with the guys. When the doors are locked, she's courageous, probing, still worthy of her star/heroine status. When her character begins to crack under the stress, Carpenter becomes a babbling, blubbering child. By the end of the film all she does is shake like she's doing the Watusi and screaming at a level that's so annoying her voice should have shattered the windows, setting everyone free. Granted, faced with the same set of circumstances, I probably would have soiled my trousers and gone fetal, but Carpenter's mono-syllabic monster melt down during the last twenty minutes of the flick will leave you crying out for subtitles. Having your lead actress collapse like Dow Jones puts too much pressure on unknown Jay Hernandez, (as fireman Jake), who skedaddles through his role as if he's speeding to a three alarm blaze.
What ultimately sickens "Quarantine" is its dark, claustrophobic camerawork. Having the early playful and less important scenes at the fire house filmed with one camera is enough to prove to the audience that we're supposed to be watching a piece of discovered history. Too much of what goes on in the apartment building is obscured by bad lighting, cock-eyed angles or jostling, jerky and just plain bad camera work, so much so that I missed Dennis O'Hare's undoubtedly bloody exit. But, Mike, doesn't the hand held camera give the film a sense of urgency? More authenticity? Nope. After squinting my way through a hemoglobin hurling happening (I could tell the zombie's dentures were doing damage because the victims were screaming), and trying to follow the bouncing bodies, I got sea sick and gave up. Two or three cameras would have preserved the plot's claustrophobic dread and allowed the audience to actually see what the heck was happening.
There's enough extra footage to make "Quarantine" seem like a reputable project, but if you want to know how the film ended up in a financial body bag, look no further than writer/producer brothers John Erick and Drew Dowdle, who come across as X-Box geeks who were given too much money to waste.
The extra features include "Locked in: The Making of Quarantine," and "Dressing the Infected," a profile of make up artist John Hall's creepy special effects and ingenuity. Hall admits he got one of the movie's most horrifying effects from actress Stacy Chbosky, a Tea Leoni look-alike and sound-alike who played "Elise." Chbosky ate Bromo Seltzer powder before a scene. (Mix it with saliva and you get quite a mouthful of yucky foam.) Chbosky gives a hilarious description of how she was able to make a long string of drool almost seemingly at will. You won't remember her being in the film, but you won't forget her frivolity in the extras.
"Quarantine" is "Ten Little Indians" for the digital age. Because so many of the cast are nothing more than zombie fodder, the repetitious panicking, screaming, neck biting, more screaming, head crushing, more running, becomes an all too predictable pattern. The only neat twists are the veterinarian's explanation as to what's infecting everyone and how the CDC traced the outbreak to the building.
"Quarantine" is like your favorite chocolate snack. It's good; but gorging yourself on it will make you sick.