Giggly brunette Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) hosts a small cable TV show called "The Night Shift". She stands outside a Los Angeles fire station with her lone cameraman Scott (Steve Harris), who remains offscreen throughout - the entire film is told from his camera's point of view. Angela speaks to the camera, explaining that they are about to spend the night "shadowing" LA's fire fighters.
Then they make their way into the station, where senior officer Bob (Barry Sigismondi) deflates a few myths, reveals that the men wear pantyhose beneath their trousers to avoid chafing when sliding down their poles, and grants Angela her wish to take two slides herself.
Bob then leads Angela and Scott to the mess room where a rowdy bunch of firemen are scoffing their evening meal. He introduces them to Jake (Jay Hernandez) and Fletcher (Jonathon Schaech), who they will follow from hereon in.
After allowing the boys to finish their meal and then attaching microphones to their uniforms, we follow their light-hearted antics for a while: the firemen play sports to pass their time; Fletcher flirts relentlessly with Angela, even making a bet with Jake that he can bed her before the night is over; they treat their guests to a fire safety display conducted by a well-trained Dalmation, and so on.
Then a call comes in and the group rush into a fire engine, heading off downtown to a distress call from a tall apartment block. As they enter the foyer, they're met by a group of concerned tenants and a disgruntled cop who becomes increasingly riled by the presence of Scott and Angela.
Scott and Angela follow Jake, Fletcher and paramedics upstairs and watch excitedly as they ram open the door to an apartment belonging to a sick old woman. Scott's camera follows the rescuers inside the darkened apartment and observes as the old dear goes bonkers when a torch is flashed in her eyes, jumping on a paramedic and biting a chunk out of his neck.
The incapacitated paramedic is rushed downstairs while Fletcher restrains the rabid granny. By the time the residents have reached the front door with the ailing medic, they find it to be locked from the outside.
As the sirens wail outside, the terrified group are told over a megaphone that they are to stay put until help arrives: they are being detained in the building because an unknown virus has originated from in there.
Predictably, this news causes mayhem and Angela insists that Scott keeps filming every detail, convinced that they will need the footage as evidence against the authorities if/when they are released from the apartment.
Moments later, the hysteria increases when Fletcher's body comes hurtling to the floor from the second storey. The group now realise they are trapped in a very life-threatening situation indeed.
Can they find a solution to the inner terror themselves? Can they survive the night and escape via an alternative exit? Can they stop bickering amongst themselves long enough to forge a plan to combat the increasing numbers of infected souls they encounter as the film progresses?
If you've seen [REC] then you'll know the answers because this is a straight remake. So straight that most of it is virtually shot-for-shot identical (from the opening shot of Angela outside the fire station, to the chilling pitch-black finale - although the reason behind the virus has been altered at this point, arguably making this scenario more plausible).
Being a remake of one of the finest genre films of the decade is a thankless task and QUARANTINE admittedly doesn't come across as intense or authentic as it's source inspiration. But I tried to view the film in it's own right and, with this in mind, it succeeds as a standalone experience.
Eschewing opening titles, the film wastes no time in establishing it's protagonists and set-up, allowing fifteen minutes of light humour and quick-fire banter before all Hell breaks loose. From that point in, there's no letting up in the pace.
The opening scenes are the film's weakest, with some performances feeling wooden and forced (Sigismondi) and therefore betraying the documentary style that's been aimed at. The humour is subjective too, of course, but at least allows Angela to come across as more likeable than her Spanish counterpart, enabling us to identify with her more easily when things start getting hairy.
The visual style of the film - the shaking handheld camerawork, the flat and washed-out lighting of the building, the FX and the gore level - are very true to [REC], suggesting either a healthy respect for the source material or a distinct lack of original ideas. Take your pick. Either way, at least you can't accuse writer-director John Erick Dowdle and co-writer Drew Dowdle of deforming [REC] beyond recognition.
Performances strengthen as the film progresses, with Carpenter and Hernandez (the survivor from the original HOSTEL) coming across surprisingly well. It's also nice to see Greg Germann as one of the tenants, giving a controlled portrayal of exterior reasoning that soon boils over into ignorance and selfishness.
Technically, the film is a bravura display of camerawork and editing, taking it's cue from the style of [REC] with profound attention to detail (despite the filmmakers' claims that they hadn't seen [REC] prior to commencing shooting of QUARANTINE). The tone of the film is nicely balanced too, the humour dissolving rapidly as the horror elements are ushered in. The way the atmosphere steadily escalates to one of sheer terror is handled deftly and the climax, while no longer a surprise, is executed extremely well.
A minor triumph as far as remakes go. But if you're familiar with [REC] it's only fair to say that this is inferior.
The film is presented on this Blu-ray DVD uncut in 1.85:1, enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The picture is smoothly textured with good natural colours and flesh-tones. Blacks are strong throughout, which is great considering how naturally dark the film is for the most part. The MPEG-4 AVC offering presents the film in 1080P and it is solid, with no evidence of shimmer or edge enhancement.
It's not the brightest of HD transfers, displaying an undeniable look of American TV. But this follows with the film's subject matter and source camera, and the film looks arguably exactly as it's intended to. Like DIARY OF THE DEAD before it, films of this ilk are never going to showcase HD to it's fullest. Still, while depth is a tad soft, the extra detail in darker scenes more than negates this and the overall result is a satisfying proposition.
Audio is available in English 5.1 TrueHD and provides a reliable, evenly balanced if not overly exercised playback. Optional subtitles are provided in English, English Hard-of-Hearing and Hindi. There's also an audio descriptive track in English 2.0.
A nice animated main page plays on the film's climactic scares while not giving too much away, and leads to static pop-up menus that include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 16 chapters. You also have the option of bookmarking favourite scenes for future reference.
Extras begin with a commentary track from the Dowdles. They are rather self-congratulatory throughout and offer a fair amount of background info while managing to avoid tipping their hats to [REC]. It's not the most entertaining track as the pair drawl on, but it's a valid inclusion nevertheless. Optional English subtitles are provided for the commentary track.
"Locked In" is a 10-minute Making Of documentary that offers a mixture of cast and crew interviews (including the bearded Dowdle duo), along with some fascinating behind-the-scenes footage. Briskly edited, this offers more insight than it's meagre running time suggests and is arguably a better proposition than the feature-length commentary track.
"Dressing The Infected: Robert Hall's Make-Up Design" is 7 minutes with Hall, owner of Almost Human Studios. He talks of how he wanted to move the make-up away from traditional zombie looks (and again manages to forget that he based it all on [REC]). There are more contributions from the filmmakers and cast here too.
"Anatomy Of A Stunt" is a 3-minute look at how the effect of one character falling from a great height was achieved. Stunt co-ordinator Lance Gilbert leads the onscreen commentary here.
The featurettes are presented in standard definition with optional English subtitles.
Finally there are trailers for RESIDENT EVIL; DEGENERATION, LAKEVIEW TERRACE, TERMINATOR SALVATION, THE INTERNATIONAL and a general Blu-ray heads-up from Sony. There's also a link to BD Live content for those with Internet access, which I didn't pursue.
The disc is coded for regions A, B and C and took approximately 15 seconds to fully load up.
QUARANTINE is better than I hoped it would be, and works on it's own terms. But if you've seen [REC], it's nigh-on impossible to separate your viewing from the notion that this was so much better the first time around.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Region A, B, C - PAL|
|see main review|