Most audience members stumbling into “Quarantine” will have no idea it’s a remake of a 2007 Spanish horror film titled “Rec.” I can’t blame anyone for their ignorance, since the original picture never broke through to America due to distribution disinterest, and that’s a cryin’ shame. “Rec” was a beautiful chiller, constructed with resourcefulness and genre filmmaking wizardry that instilled a modest concept with the right amount of armrest-ripping content to fuel nightmares for weeks. “Quarantine” is the unavoidable American replica, only this version has ingested a bottle of idiot pills and washed it all down with a full glass of directorial incompetence.
Sent on an assignment to cover a night at the average Los Angeles firehouse, T.V. personality Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) is stuck reporting on the mundane details of fireman life. Becoming frustrated with her botched attempts to add some spice into this monotonous story, Angela’s fortunes change when a call arrives requesting emergency assistance at an apartment complex. Tagging along with her newfound friends (including Jay Hernandez), Angela and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) head into the building, only to be quickly sealed in by faceless government officials. Now trapped with angry cops (Columbus Short), paranoid residents (Rade Serbedzija), and an anxious medical professional (Greg Germann), Angela and her roving camera discover the true reason for the quarantine…and it’s hungry for flesh.
There’s nothing broad to be found in “Quarantine” that directly separates it from “Rec.” Director John Erick Dowdle (of the unreleasable “The Poughkeepsie Tapes”) crafts a straightforward copy of the Spanish film, preserving the same plot and scare beats, but altering the corners of the writing to put his fat stamp on the picture. To Americanize “Rec,” “Quarantine” introduces crude sexual tension between Angela and the firemen, and turns our camera-ready hostess from a frustrated lifestyle reporter to a veritable sorority pledge, with Dowdle encouraging Carpenter to play daft instead of confident, ultimately reducing Angela’s role in the overall scheme of things.
The changes are minor, but they do add up, wandering away from “Rec” in all the wrong ways. The original film spent some time with the characters, “Quarantine” quickly sets up the humans as zombie food, with little development beyond differing puncture wounds. “Rec” was a multi-layered visual piece of broadcasting verisimilitude, resembling a chaotic news explosion; the remake retains an unacceptable glossy look, highlighting the already recognizable cast as humdrum actors, not frantic citizens trapped in Hell. Also, while “Rec” didn’t win any awards for steady cinematography, director Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza composed carefully for maximum suspense and exposition. Dowdle just throws his camera around arbitrarily, with huge sections of the film lost to inane handheld blur and iffy technical believability. In other words, “Rec” invited the viewer to get lost in the terror. “Quarantine” can’t stop reminding everyone that it’s just a dopey movie.
Reviewing “Quarantine” on its own merits is a difficult challenge, since “Rec” is as close to perfection as fright films get these days. To the uninitiated, the remake will be easy enough to swallow, with plenty of cheap boo scares and hysterical Carpenter overacting to justify the price of admission. For “Rec” fans, there’s no reason to return to this story, since Hollywood has drained the tension away, replacing Spanish innovation with American stupidity.