Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
US Rating: Rated R For Bloody Violent and Disturbing Content, Terror and Language
Film Length: 89 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p High Definition
Audio: English and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French and Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: Portuguese, Spanish and English
Review Date: February 14, 2009
The Film - out of
As Quarantine begins, there is great promise in the easy, natural feel from the ‘cameraman’s viewpoint’ as we are introduced to Angela, a reporter and her cameraman XX as they get given a tour of the firehouse they are stationed at for the night, recording a piece on the average night in the life of a firefighter. Taking a page from J.J. Abrams successful Cloverfield, we see it all through the eye of the camera.
A remake of the 2007 Spanish film [Rec], Quarantine scores points for taking its time introducing characters and building a sense apprehension from the camera’s single point of view. John Erick Dowdle adeptly directs from a screenplay he adapted along with Drew Dowdle. The hovering voyeurism of the camera, floating in, through and out of the chaos and calm during the film, is used effectively. It is the core around which the tension is slowly ratcheted up.
A Television news crew, who are staying with a Los Angeles Fire Departments to film their lives for a night, ride along with them on a call that turns out to be anything but normal. Filming the fire crew, along with the police that have responded to the same call; they witness a bloody and terrifying act of violence in the upper apartment of a three story building. An elderly lady, foaming at the mouth, bloodied and in what looks like an angry trance attacks the emergency crews. When they try to leave the building, they discover that all the exits have been blocked, the apartment building surrounded and full containment procedures in place. The fire, police and news crews along with the scared building residence are trapped, in quarantine, as a mysterious infection spreads and those ensnared are in mortal danger.
Quarantine works well and succeeds on a number of levels. It remains dedicated to its premise and doesn’t feel the need to deliver cheap chills and disposable kills every 7-10 minutes. It also seems to have learned a valuable lesson from other films that used the hand-held camera concept to tell its story. It doesn’t shake the camera to the point of nausea, takes its time within a scene to allow characters to react and act naturally and maintains a well orchestrated sense of chaos. Since Blair Witch Project exploded onto the horror scene with its subjective camera and sense of realism, others films have attempted to deliver the same documentary sense. Cloverfield the most successful of these, George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead the least. Quarantine ranks high on that short list. It works as a thriller since has more than the mysterious affliction and somewhat zombified, rampaging bodies to create its feeling dread and fear. The cordoning of the building off from the outside world serves as an additional layer of threat, helping build foreboding, anxiety and paranoia born from the claustrophobia. Lastly, while having a group of people under extreme duress react in a selfish and panicked fashion is par for the course in horror films, when the other layers are mixed in, it combines to become gripping and terrifying.
Quarantine also boast a number recognizable faces; a cast that supports the premise faithfully and delivers performances that express the tension and fear of the characters quite naturally. Jennifer Carpenter stars as the news reporter Angela. Since her visceral performance in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, she has been one to look out for. While this role doesn’t demand as much of her as Emily Rose, she is able to show off a little humor before the screaming starts. Columbus Short plays a police officer, Wilensky, Jay Hernandez and Jonathon Schaech play firefighters Jake and George. And Rade Sherbedgia (Yuri Ivanov), Denis O’Hare (Randy) and Greg Germann (Lawrence) play residents and, though we see little of him (for obvious reasons) Steve Harris plays the cameraman Scott Percival. Many scenes include improvisational moments that enhance the ensemble feel and the unscripted nature of the proceedings.
It’s a good cast and since many of the scenes run without cuts and edits (out of necessity to the premise), they work well together, choreographing against pandemonium, darkness, blood and guts. Some scenes are digitally stitched together – but it is seamless and works perfectly with the long scenes shot continuously. And like a stage play that uses all dimensions – it as quite the feat to have pulled off as effectively as it did.
Despite some bending of the single camera rules, Quarantine is creepy and very, very scary. The tension is even palpable at times. This is a surprisingly effective horror film and an easy one to recommend. I loved it.
Sony Pictures presents Quarantine on blu-ray in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p High Definition. Like Cloverfield, it produces a sharp looking image while preserving the on the scene news camera look. Flesh tones are very natural, most notably during the calmer opening ten minutes or so. But this is a dark film for most of its running time and, as such, will be made or broken by how the light/dark contrasts are handled. Fortunately, it succeeds. Shot in HD, it relies heavily on good lighting techniques and the keen eye of the Director of Photography (Ken Seng) and the bright spots within a scene, never more than you need to see, are clean; not murky, no cloudiness or dullness. Fine details are plenty and contrasts and black level deep.
Quarantine is presented on Blu-Ray with an English (and Portuguese) Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track (as well as French and Spanish 5.1 tracks) and it makes good use of the films superb sound design. Without relying on music, the sound effects – sirens, horns, helicopters, echoes, heavy breathing and more all become the soundtrack to the film and the surround sound and directional effects augment that soundtrack to create an absorbing ambience. The subwoofer manages to get a good work out, with bangs, crashes and rumbling growls throughout. Even the chopper sounds boom from time to time. Sounds in each of the channels is clean; no issues. You will be pleased.
Commentary with Writer/Director John Erick Dowdle and Writer Producer Drew Dowdle – A good, lively commentary track from the Dowdle brothers. Sharing appreciation for the talent in front of and behind the camera, we are treated to some revealing information on how shots were set up and effects were achieved.
Locked In: The Making Of Quarantine - (10:05) – A behind the scenes look at the production of Quarantine. Fairly good featurette that finds itself exploring more interesting elements of the production at times than what you typically find. Everything from production design, lighting and acting are covered though not in as much detail as I would have liked.
“Anatomy Of A Stunt” Featurette - (3:23) – A look at the stunt used in a scene late in the film as an infected falls down the center of the stairways, hitting railings on her way down. This was a scene I was sure was enhanced with computer generated imagery, but it is refreshing (and impressive) to discover that it was a real stunt scene.
”Dressing the Infected: Robert Hall’s Make-Up Design - (7:29) – Robert Hall of ‘Almost Human’ discusses his work on the film and others from the production share appreciation of his detailed work. This closer look at his extraordinarily real looking infected humans demonstrates the exception of his work. The only complaint is that it is entirely too short.
Previews: Trailers for Passengers, Resident Evil: Degeneration, Vacancy 2: The First Cut, Lakeview Terrace, Pineapple Express and Hancock.
Note: This disc is also BD Live Enabled though this feature was not active at the time of this review.
Quarantine isn’t the most original horror film, but it is takes us on one hell of a scary ride and makes excellent use of its subjective camera premise. Performances are better than the typical horror film, production values are strong and the experience is exactly what recent horror films have failed to give – intelligently crafted, effectively structured and actually scary. Horror fans, I am please to recommend Quarantine as the best scary flick since Neil Marshall’s terrific The Descent.