Saturday, October 11, 2008

Movies: Quarantine

Some movies are not well represented by their trailers. Quarantine is not one of those movies. In fact, the trailer lays it all out pretty clearly, from the plot to the visual style to the movies that likely served as inspiration. Basically, if you enjoyed Cloverfield and 28 Days/Weeks Later, you’ll probably enjoy Quarantine, and if you didn’t, you probably won’t. Simple enough.

The film employs the handheld camera technique recently seen in Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead and made notorious by The Blair Witch Project. People who were nauseated watching Cloverfield and Blair Witch might not have as many problems with Quarantine, as the camera work is slightly smoother since it’s supposed to be a professional camera operated by someone who knows what he’s doing, but of course there are still stretches of wobbliness as the cameraman flees from the infected, so take some Dramamine if that kind of thing bothers you.

As far as the infected, the one thing the trailer wasn’t clear on is what the nature of the disease was. It looked like it could be zombies, vampires, or something else. It turns out to be some kind of fast-acting super-rabies, similar to 28 Days Later’s rage virus. Really similar, in fact, from the appearance of the infected to the method of contagion to the shady government.

As for the government storyline, wherein they seal off the building and tell reporters the building has been evacuated when it actually hasn’t, it does fall apart a bit when there’s no big reveal that similar cases had appeared and been dealt with similarly elsewhere (aside from some off-screen mayhem in a vet’s office that led the CDC back to the soon-to-be-quarantined apartment). It seems to be a fairly new disease and this the first real outbreak, and it’s hard to picture the government thinking up such extreme measures on the fly.

While Quarantine is not exactly blazing a new trail here, it does get in some admirable gruesomeness. For example, in all my time watching horror movies filmed in the first-person camera POV, I’ve never actually seen the camera used to bash a creature to death in a scene where the shaky camerawork isn’t the only thing liable to cause queasiness.

It’s fairly well acted and the storytelling is pretty solid. There are some annoying “we’re in a horror movie, so let’s act stupid” moments – maybe I’m just overestimating my cool-headedness in a similar scenario, but I’m always sitting there wondering why people aren’t loading up on supplies or weapons whenever they get the chance. No, by all means, blunder around in the dark completely unarmed when you’ve just been trawling through apartments that probably contain flashlights, umbrellas, chair legs, and other things useful for the bashing in of brains. The claustrophobic atmosphere does add a nice bit of urgency to the tone, giving it a very different vibe from Cloverfield’s sprawl and 28 Days Later’s hordes of rampaging infected. In fact, I would have probably said it’s solidly scary, if my judgment hadn’t been clouded by the less-than-ideal audience in my showing.

Let me take a moment to rant about idiots with no manners. I think the movie had some solidly creepy jump moments, but they didn’t get to me the way they usually do because the numbskulls seated right behind me in the theatre were completely out of control. Any bit of violence or creeptasticness was met with loud guffaws and shouts of “This is so stupid!” or just loudly narrating what was happening on screen, for the benefit of those of us without functioning eyes or brains I suppose. Which is bad enough in any movie, but seeing as Quarantine very closely follows the trailer, they can’t have not known what they were in for. I don’t think the movie was exactly aiming to be the next Casablanca, and it wasn't trying to pull some bait-and-switch to lure in hapless viewers. Needless to say, that drained any tension from the atmosphere. Not the fault of the filmmakers. No, it’s just my own fault for not listening to my own instincts and going to an earlier showing, or not moving when said knuckleheads chattered throughout the previews. They quieted down once the movie started so I thought I was golden, but once the action kicked in about 35 minutes into it they started nattering again, and I didn’t want to be that huffy person who gets up and moves mid-movie because the people seated right by them are acting like assholes. (Though I did do just that in Iron Man, when a mother refused to lift a finger to control her chair-kicking, squalling sprogs, and look, I know kids are gonna do what kids are gonna do, I don’t blame the children, but it’s up to the parents to drag their misbehaving asses out to the lobby and lay into them the way my parents did when I’d act up in movies. Better yet, sit over to the side, away from most of the other moviegoers, to minimize disruptions.) So yeah, I am a little disappointed that a lot of the movie was spoiled by idiots, but I’ll probably get the DVD when it comes out, so I’ll see if it parses better in the comfort of my own, quiet living room.

One more note on the trailer – it functions a little too well as a microcosm of the movie itself, even going so far as to include the final shot of the movie, which is not a great practice. With few exceptions, movie trailers should be culled from act one and early act two only, to avoid giving away the whole game before opening day. But the final scene is very creepy and tense - tense enough to silence the ninnies behind me, even. One minor quibble, though - handheld camera movies shouldn't have the explanation of the origins come via a pan across newspaper clippings with Significant Headlines, because the shot was so shaky and quick that one can't actually read what they said, though Wikipedia tells me they alluded to a doomsday cult working on an apocalypse virus. But I shouldn't have to wait until I get home and fire up the internet to get that kind of information.

Still, overall I really enjoyed Quarantine, but then, I’m not a hard sell for this kind of movie. Ultimately, Quarantine won’t win over any converts, but it should satisfy fans of the genre.


Sex Mahoney for President said...

Using a camera to bash a monster to death. Now that's what I call multitasking.

I love the slow pan over newspaper articles, but only because horror movies always have the worst dialogue... and acting... and editing...

Sex Mahoney for President

smd said...

Hey, going to a horror movie expecting good dialogue, acting, and editing is like going to a brothel expecting post-coital cuddling. You know what you're in for with horror movies and brothels, but at least one (probably) won't give you syphilis.

Sex Mahoney for President said...

If you pay extra, they will cuddle you.

smd said...

How much extra? We are in a recession, you know. It might be more financially prudent to pay the hooker just for the sex, then give a homeless man a dollar to cuddle with you afterwards.