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Remakes get a bad rap purely because the reasons behind most remakes seems to be lack of inspiration. So, rather than being imaginative, they are simply retreads with superficial changes. As for the reasoning behind most remakes, great films are rarely remade and if they are, the two key causes that I've seen, for all remakes, seems to be age and language. The latter is what we have with 2008's Quarantine, the US remake of the 2007 Spanish horror film [REC].
I saw [REC] before Quarantine, so that is my stance in this review. I have to stack one claustrophobic horror against the other. The changes between the two films are pretty minor. Both films are Cloverfield, Blair Witch styled one camera, pseudo-documentary horror flicks. Quarantine follows Angela, a tv reporter (Jennifer Carpenter- The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Dexter) covering the lives of firemen on their late shift rounds. She and her cameraman (Steve Harris) tag along with two firefighters (Jonathan Schaeck & Jay Hernandez) responding to an innocuous call at an old apartment building. The case of an injured and confused elderly resident soon spirals into full tilt terror when it is apparent some kind of "infection" is plaguing the residents and causing them to become rage-filled, foam-mouthed, bloodshot-eyed, gonna bite you maniacs (I hope someone sent Danny Boyle and Alex Garland a check). The building is sealed off by the CDC and those locked inside are quickly forced into fighting off the crazed and trying to find a way out before they are either killed or infected themselves.
The style, premise, location, and most of the main characters between Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza's [REC] and John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle's Quarantine are relatively unchanged. Quarantine is a tad longer due to the addition of a few "infected" characters and has a longer introduction before getting to the apartment building. Other than that, the Dowdle's made some casting alterations to the characters, largely excised a slower middle section where the reporter interviews the colorful residents, and they add a different spin on the explanation behind the reason for the "infected." So, yeah, [REC]'s manager is a older gay guy while Quarantine's is a scruffy, bohemian European, an Asian couple is changed into an Ethiopian couple, the meek fireman is morphed into a stud, the medical intern becomes a vet. The plotting, in both films, doesn't have much wiggle room for character development, so Quarantine's changes are not as much character redesigns as they are minor little adjustments in appearances. The basic impetuous of the roles is unchanged.
The A-B-C's of [REC] and Quarantine's plotting are mirror images, starting at the same point, ending at the same point, and largely hitting all the same ground between. The Dowdle's do add a few clever kills and bits of grue but also completely crib scares and kills from [REC] right down to the framing and general design. As for the change in the horror genesis, [REC] mostly downplays any explanation until hammering a cheesy excuse in the finale while Quarantine offers up some plain exposition. In other words, [REC] says, "We're not sure what's going on," and Quarantine says, "Looks like they've got super-rabies." Personally, I think in both films the finale reveal of the "infection" cause could be excised, keep it a total mystery, and the audience wouldn't care.
In a bit of irony, Quarantine's casting of Jennifer Carpenter made me appreciate Manuela Velasco from [REC]. Both films really hinge on Angela, and originally I thought that Velasco was a bit high strung and very grating. I'm a Dexter fan so seeing that Carpenter was cast in the lead, I thought she might be an improvement. However, Carpenter is just physically wrong for the role. Angela is a local reporter, a lower rung, young one, and Velasco fit the image much better than Carpenter. Carpenter is just a bit too boyish and simply doesn't sound like any reporter on my local news. Velasco has the image and more vain facade that one associates with the job of a newscaster or hometown street reporter. Velasco is also small, so you feel the dangerous threat to her more vividly than you do Carpenter, who is every bit as tall as her male co-stars and looks like she probably wouldn't wilt as quick as the slight Velasco.
I didn't know until I delved into the extras that the film makers behind Quarantine were John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle. It makes sense that they were hired to do this documentary stylized horror film because their previous film was the faux-doc horror The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Personally, I thought Poughkeepsie was a very weak, conceptually offensive, and fundamentally flawed film, but it stands as a good calling card on your resume for making this kind of horror film. While they do acquit themselves better here, there is still the central problem that this film looks too slick for the concept. Sure, there is the usual shaky cam stuff and the limitations of a single camera POV to tackle all the action, but the pure aesthetic look is never rough and clumsy enough to make one believe that the scenario could be true. Maybe thats just the Hollywood system at work- wanting to make a shaky cam horror film, you know, but not too shaky. Visually, I thought [REC] was too rough but having watched the slicker Quarantine, in regards to capturing the doc/real aesthetic, I lean towards [REC] as the superior of the two.
The DVD: Sony.
Picture: The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen. Critiquing the image of Quarantine comes down to the style. Being a handheld flick, one that purposefully engages in more hectic movement and abrasive details, you cannot stack it against your average film. For what it is, tech creds are solid, no real flaws other than the intentional ones. Contrast is nice and deep. Colors are vivid. Sharpness, or as sharp as it intends to be, is also acceptable.
Sound: The transfer has two tracks, a 5.1 Surround English track and a 2.0 French track. Subtitle options are English, French, Spanish, and additional English subs for the commentary track. Stylistically, there is no score, so it all boils down to the dialogue and fx. On that front, the presentation is solid and fairly responsive. Though, in another way the films realism is shattered, the audio work does sound post manipulated, cinematic, and not natural.
Extras: The extras start off with some very brief, back-patting featurettes, a "Making Of" (10:05), one on the makeup (7:29), and one on the stunts (3:24). They are your usual, happy, hyperbole ridden interviews. Apparently everything was great, everyone did their job expertly, and the film is brilliant. For instance, the makeup designer actually has the ego to proclaim his final ghoulie creation, "...probably the most terrifying thing I've ever seen put on film." Dont undersell yourself there, buddy.
Now we come to the commentary by producer/co-(re)writer Drew Dowdle and director/co-(re)writer John Erick Dowdle, and forgive me if I go off on a tangent. Some people are going to watch this film and have no idea that it is a remake. Sure, there is an end credit nod and the trailer for [REC] is on this disc but thats it. Nowhere in the featurettes or the commentary does anyone recognize the original source film. This near-whitewash was obviously done by the movie studio, to which I say, if you are ashamed you made a remake, dont make remakes.
I just found it extremely frustrating that the original creators weren't getting the proper respect for their work. It made the commentary especially irksome because, aside from the usual praise for the entire cast and crews work (understandable for filmmakers going from no budget indie to small budget studio), the Dowdle's continually mention being proud of things they did that are aspects they copied from the source film. Again, I believe (or hope) they were told not to mention [REC], so they are not entirely at fault. I just wish they would have found a way to tiptoe around talking about the several aped elements or simply not done the commentary at all.
Conclusion: I don't believe that [REC] or Quarantine are particularity great horror films. Strictly b-fare, no involving subtext or engaging characters, delivering some derivative shaky cam, spazz horror scares. Entertaining and competent? Sure. You'll kill 90 mins but wont be likely to vault either film onto you favorites list. Neither film outdoes the other, each has some advantages, so my recommendation really boils down to originality. I say rent [REC] first and if you liked it well enough then give Quarantine a whirl and watch how Hollywood repackages and significantly prettys up the concept.