Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Review: Quarantine

OK, so it's not exactly the most timely of reviews, but at least I feel like I don't have to worry too much about spoilers. "Quarantine", which has been out on DVD for a couple of months now, is a remake of the Spanish film "Rec". Both films share the same basic plot--a camera crew doing a ride-along with a team of firefighters winds up in an apartment building where one of the residents appears to have gone violently insane. As it turns out, she's suffering from a contagious disease that causes violent insanity--so contagious, in fact, that the authorities have sealed off the building with everyone still inside it.

It's an intense, claustrophobic, and utterly immersive experience. "Immersive" is the key word, there, because the premise feels so chillingly believable that you have almost no trouble accepting this as a documentary. The actors, pretty much without exception, behave like real people in front of a news camera instead of actors playing a part, and the special effects and stunts are all well-chosen to avoid being flashy and drawing attention to the cinematic nature of the experience. Even the script, for the most part, grounds the scenario in realistic discussions of terrorism and a genetically engineered strain of rabies instead of supernatural causes (or, as with "Rec", an attempt by a priest to isolate the cause of "demonic possession" that turns out to be a virus...go figure.) For most of the movie, you feel like what you're watching could very well be real.

Which, unfortunately, makes the Hollywood moments in the movie stand out that much more. The disease in "Quarantine" works, for the most part, because it acts like a real disease does; it has a predictable, measurable progression of symptoms from delirium through catatonia into uncontrollable violence. (Which isn't actually how rabies works, setting aside the fact that it apparently manages to move into the brain in an hour or so when actual rabies takes months, but how many people watching this are going to be familiar with the symptoms of rabies beyond the pop-culture version?) So when the last half-hour of the film hits, and the disease suddenly speeds up its progression from hours to minutes because the film-makers want to pep things up a bit for the big finale, it feels almost like they're cheating. (Likewise when one of the characters in the film supposedly has had the disease for weeks, but waits until someone else mentions that she must have been infected before suddenly going violent right that second.)

Still, those moments that pull you out of the illusion remain few and far between for the first hour or so of the film, and the movie creates a wonderful study of escalating fear and paranoia. There's also some nice thematic work going on, tapping into the zeitgeist of 2008 America as the fear of terrorist threats slowly gave way to the worry that our government was using that fear as licence to do whatever they wanted. (Notice the way that all the authority figures, whether wielding guns and tasers or wearing hazmat suits, are constantly afraid of the guy with the camera. Even when they're not necessarily doing anything wrong, they're uncomfortable with the idea of there being a record of their actions.)

I think it's well worth seeing--the film's internal logic doesn't always hold up the way you'd like it to (although it makes a lot more sense if you assume that the CDC representative is lying or was lied to--sealing off the building the way they do suggests that they're only interested in containing the virus, not studying it, something they'd only do if they knew what they were up against. Oh, and you kind of have to assume that Yuri's lying when he says he hasn't seen his tenant for weeks, and that it's a red herring because if he'd been infected with the virus for weeks, he'd be dead...and even if he wasn't, he couldn't feed all of his pets.) But the direction and acting masterfully cover the seams in the script--and as noticeable as those seams are at times, the film is still a lot more logical than "28 Days Later".

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