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Reviewed by Jorge de la Cova, © 2008

Format: Movie
By:   John Eric Dowdle
Genre:   Zombies
Review Date:   October 13, 2008
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

When is a zombie movie not a zombie movie? Two words: my friends: FAST ZOMBIES. These suckers are sprightly little cusses.

Ironically, Quarantine, the American remake of the Spanish horror movie, [REC], starts off slowly. After-hours reporter Angela follows firefighters around their Los Angeles fire station on an uneventful and quiet night. She follows them from TV room to fire pole to locker room in what seems like an endless and exhausting tour of every nook and cranny of the station. Following Angela is faithful cameraman Scott, taping every moment in glorious Jitter Cam.

Yes, folks, the Jitter Cam is back (More on that later.)

Residents at an apartment building call 911 to report screaming. Then the real action takes off faster than my innards after overly-spicy Thai food.

The building turns into ground zero of the latest attack of super-fast zombies. Yes, Mr. Romero, fast zombies kick ass! Ask Zack Snyder and Danny Boyle. Then, faster than you can say “Six slithering zombies slipping and sliding” five times, the victims get picked off one-by-one.

To make matters worse, the inhabitants of the building are being isolated, with cable, internet and cell phones falling victim to an insidious plot to separate the quarantined from the outside world. The quarantine works from the inside out, but also from the outside in. The $64,000 question is, “Why?”

Cue the Jitter Cam. Cameraman Scott, ever dedicated, follows the evening’s goings-on (and Angela’s orders to keep the camera running) to a fault. I swore after Cloverfield I’d stop watching this stuff, this twisting and turning of the moviegoer’s point of view in all its nausea-inducing, handheld splendor. Why do I keep coming back?

Blair Witch was OK. I didn’t mind the Jitter Cam in Cloverfield. Heck, I even enjoyed it in Diary of the Dead. But it’s outlived its usefulness. You’re disoriented. There’s chaos. OK, we get it!

Like any reporter worth her paycheck, Angela follows the action as clues arise to the origin of the infection. Along the way, we are treated to solid character actors from TV and movie history. Marin Hinkle, Charlie Harper’s shrill harpy of an ex-wife from Two and a Half Men, takes a credible turn as a frantic mother worried for the safety of her daughter, who is nursing a cold. Briana’s dog Max displays erratic behavior. Cue ominous music. Except that there is no music in this movie. And I didn’t notice this until the movie had finished. I just got caught up in the fun.

Even though I knew what to expect, it was a while before I did my usual, inevitable, watch check.

Greg Germann from Ally McBeal also moves the plot along handily, as a veterinarian out of his league trying to make sense of a medical mystery.

Even Jeannie Epper, stuntwoman to Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman shows up. Really. She earns her keep, but I don’t want to spoil the movie by saying how.

I swear I saw Rita Moreno having a go at it in this movie. Rita Moreno. I swear.

The tension builds steadily as the body count mounts inexorably towards the final scene. Conspiracy theories abound, and the frustration turns the building’s prisoners against each other. Cowards show their true colors. Heroes fall valiantly. And the camera rarely stops running, capturing every last, gory kill in all its Technicolor, Jitter Cam glory.

Here’s where the movie succeeds: Even though I knew what to expect, it was an hour and forty five minutes into the movie before I did my usual check-out-what-time-it-is. It’s a bad habit, I know, this watch-checking. So, when I wait a full hour and forty five minutes before the first watch-check, that’s a sure sign I have gotten sucked into the story.

Here’s another good sign: My movie-watching buddy, Os, squirmed and jumped in his seat and shared sentiments like, “Wow” and “No way ” throughout the whole movie.

But the devil is in the details. Unlike its sly, restrained, Spanish predecessor, Quarantine resorts to pretty people, references to the “War on Terror”, and icky-fun, but ultimately unnecessary gore to appeal to a dumbed-down American audience.

The acting suffers in comparison. Unlike Quarantine’s Jennifer Carpenter, Manuela Velasco, the actress from [REC], emotes both abject fear and a reporter’s passion for getting the story on tape. This is especially true towards the s ending. Quarantine’s Angela whines, “Keep the light on me ” ad nauseam, while [REC]’s Angela keeps it together long enough to piece together newspaper clippings and evidence to solve the mystery, screaming bloody panic all the while.

Quarantine really suffers in comparison to [REC] most strikingly at the end. Quarantine’s origin of the infection is muddled and mired, unlike the fairly clear resolution in [REC]. I felt like I was watching the movie version of Horror for American Dummies. They dumbed it down and made it more complicated all at once.

My ultimate recommendation: Watch Quarantine. After that, go and find [REC] and see how it’s really done.

Jorge de la Cova is fast, but he's not fast zombie fast.

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