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Review

‘Quarantine’ reflects Hollywood’s laziness, lack of creativity

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October 16, 2008

The leaves are changing, the days are getting cooler and the theaters are getting scarier. I use the word loosely. Film content isn’t getting any scarier – quite the opposite, actually – but the quality of what’s now showing is truly frightening. And to emphasize my point, Hollywood has graciously supplied “Quarantine,” the first film attempt to piggyback on last year’s brilliantly styled “Cloverfield.” The comparisons between the two are inevitable: both are pseudo-horror told from a first-person moving camera meant to simulate being in the moment.

The style isn’t exactly new – video games have dominated the camera style since the early ‘90s; 1999 saw the first film experimentations with the single, grainy camera viewpoint in the cinematic miscarriage “The Blair Witch Project.”

When “Cloverfield” came along, the film proved that the style can be successfully translated onto the screen, and brought with it the most terrifying innovation to the horror genre in years.

But the horror itself isn’t the problem with “Quarantine.” Director John Erick Dowdle masterfully crafts some incredibly intense, spine-tingling moments in his claustrophobic tale of an apartment complex put on lockdown due to a strange disease circulating through the building, a disease transmitted by a bite from the infected, a disease that turns its victims into hyper-aggressive zombie-esque monsters.

I’ve never been a fan of films that call themselves horror simply through their cheap use of shock tactics – and “Quarantine” does get in a few jabs – but rather by the high road seldom traveled: psychological horror. Dowdle attempts to play off our fears of enclosed spaces, the hopelessness and desperation that comes from being trapped and the sheer terror of being hunted. He achieves this primordial sensation through low-level lighting casting long shadows down narrow hallways, excellent make-up that transforms even a little girl into a hellish doppelganger of humanity and, of course, the first-person camera – in this instance it happens to be a cameraman following a team of firefighters that are called in to investigate the quarantined building.

All this should add up to a brilliant psychological mind-fuck, but the film is betrayed, even stabbed in the back, by its loathsome script. The basic plot is fine, but the character interactions are grotesquely absurd, laughable at times. This is, unequivocally, the most frustrating movie I have ever watched; never have I had to fight a stronger urge to jump up and yell at the screen.

It takes almost all 90 minutes, and a near 100 percent body count, for the final few survivors to start using common sense – and even then it is only for a few moments before they regress back into the inept, irrational and completely brain-dead failures of human existence that they are; I found myself apathetic to their plight, they deserved to die for their idiocy.

It’s asinine, the ways in which the characters find to embrace death. It seems like the landlord here is Kavorkian himself, the tenants his tortured patients longing for death. How else could one explain the naive actions every single person takes, actions that clearly defy any semblance of logic or educated judgment?

Yes, “Quarantine” is very much horror – if these characters are meant to be accurate reflections of people today, than I am truly terrified.

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.