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Quarantine (2008)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/17/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/8/2009

In my recent review for Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway, I discussed the reaction that one has when experiencing two different versions of a piece of entertainment. I concluded that when one sees a movie, for example, and then sees a remake, one will prefer the version to which one was first exposed. This idea can often be up to debate, as there are usually differences between the two projects in question, so one can talk about what they like and didn't like. However, there are times when two things are incredibly similar and the conversation needs closer examination. [Rec] is a Spanish horror film which opened in Spain in November, 2007. By October, 2008, an American remake, entitled Quarantine, hit theaters. Obviously, there must be something special about [Rec] for someone to jump on it so quickly. Can Quarantine capture that magic?

Quarantine introduces us to Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter), the host of a TV show called The Night Shift, which examines what happens while the rest of us are asleep. Tonight, Angela has brought her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) to a Los Angeles fire-station to see how the fireman spend their overnight shifts. Angela meets George (Johnathon Schaech) and Jake (Jay Hernandez), the fire-fighters whom she'll be shadowing, and they show her around the station. A call comes in and Angela and Scott hop aboard the fire truck to document the emergency. They arrive at an apartment building, where screams have been coming from an apartment. Two police officers also arrives on the scene. The group goes to the apartment in question, and find an old woman (Jeannie Epper) who is behaving strangely. Suddenly the woman attacks the group and injures one of the officers. Panicked, Angela and Scott attempt to join the others in leaving the building, but they find that the front doors have been locked and that a group of police officers and soldiers are outside. Through announcement, they learn that the building has been quarantined and that they will not be allowed to leave. Meanwhile, the violent behavior exhibited by the old women begins to spread to the other tenants, and Angela soon finds herself surrounded by bloodthirsty psychopaths.

[Rec] offered by a brilliantly simple premise and a groundbreaking experience. The movie's main idea is a mixture of faux-documentary-style, as seen in The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, and the manic, out of control attackers from 28 Days Later. This is then placed inside of one building, and all of the action takes place there. Once this idea is established, the movie becomes an escalating exercise in tension and chaos and more and more of the tenants become infected and the survivors attempt to learn what is happening.

Quarantine is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of [Rec]. The story is identical for the most part, some of the more notable shots are exactly the same, and many of the most memorable scares are reproduced in their entirety. So, I guess you could say, in that sense, Quarantine is a success. The movie features intense action, well-timed jump scares, shocking violence, and creepy visuals. The sense of panic and isolation is palpable. The ending is shocking, and leaves one feeling sucker-punched. On many levels, Quarantine hits the right notes.

But, having said that, some slight changes have been made for this American version, and, to me, they diminish the experience. For starters, there are some four-legged friends lose in the building who weren't present in the original. This certainly takes away from the story and introduces a kill which feels very cheap. Secondly, while Quarantine leaves unanswered questions just as [Rec] did, there's still way too much explanation of what is happening. The characters stand around and talk about what is causing the violent behavior, and there's a medical explanation given and it's simply too much. The original movie tells us all that we need to know in one sentence and allows the movie to keep going, but Quarantine reinforces the idea that Americans need to be spoon-fed everything and can't decipher anything on their own.

After hearing a ton of hype, I finally tracked down an import copy of [Rec] and I was summarily impressed. Again, the premise is simple, but the result is riveting. Because of this, I didn't know what to expect from Quarantine. Having now seen it, my reaction is mixed. It creates the same visceral response felt in the original, but it's not quite as intense, and the lack of mystery takes away from the experience. But, while it's not a total insult to [Rec], I still prefer the original. Due to the fact that there's not a ton of dialogue or cultural references in the first film, there's no reason why it couldn't have been released here. But, thanks to the continued notion that Americans won't sit through a subtitled movie, we get this remake. If at all possible, I'd recommend seeing [Rec] first, but if you can't, Quarantine is a reasonable substitute for the moment.

Quarantine chases you up the stairs on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. When evaluating the video here, one must keep in mind that the entire film is mean to be seen through a TV video camera. Given that, the image is sharp and clear, showing no grain, save for the night-vision scenes. The only defects in the piece are those which occur through incidents in the film. The colors look good, and the dark scenes here are done intentionally so. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio is an important part of the movie and things sound very good here. The stereo effects are excellent, as are the surround effects. We certainly get the sense that we are there. A helicopter is constantly circling the building, and we get that surround effect throughout the movie. The subwoofer effects come into play as well, amplifying the punches and falls.

The Quarantine DVD contains four extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Writer/Director John Erick Dowdle and Writer/Prodcuer Drew Dowdle. This is a pretty good talk, as the pair discuss the rigors of shooting a film like this. They talk about the work which went into long takes and they discuss their actors and the effects. However, I listened to most of the track and they never mentioned the fact that this is a remake. "Locked In: The Making of Quarantine" (10 minutes) explores the challenges of shooting a movie in which each take runs for several minutes and contains multiple actors. The piece contains comments from the cast and filmmakers, as well as some on-set footage. We also learn how cuts were hidden in the film and the abuse taken by the camera and cameraman. There is also a look at the sets. "Dressing the Infected: Robert Hall's Make-up Design" (7 minutes) offers an interview with the special effects make up artist who describes the look of the aggressors in the film and shows us how the makeup was applied. "Anatomy of a Stunt" (3 minutes) takes us on-set to see how a fall was accomplished. (This was a shot in the film which looked full CG, so it's nice to see how it was actually done.) Here's one more thing of note -- amongst the bonus trailers on this DVD is the trailer for Rec. Does this mean that Sony now how has the rights to that film? And if so, when will see a Region 1 release?

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has also brought Quarantine to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. Again, we're judging a purposely altered HD look here, but the taking that into consideration, the transfer looks great. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no unintentional grain or defects. The colors look nice and the black tones are true and realistic. The detail level is impressive and there's a nice depth to the image. The Disc delivers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Despite the surprisingly low bitrate, this is a stellar track. The surround and subwoofer effects are constant and very detailed. The use of sounds moving from side to side and from front to back is very effective. Again, the helicopter sound effects help to put us right into the action, and when the infected attack the camera, the sudden loudness of those scenes is jarring.

The Blu-ray Disc contains the same extras as the DVD.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long