Just the other week, I was singing the praises of [REC]. Today, I come to bury its American remake, Quarantine. At first glance, Quarantine is a virtual photocopy of its model. Scene follows scene in the same order, to the same (intended effect), to the same final shot. And yet somehow, the whole thing falls flat. How can this be? If the movies are identical, why aren’t they identically effective?Because they aren’t really identical, of course, at least not where it really counts, and every change Quarantine rings is a poor decision. First, there is the running time. Quarantine runs about a quarter of an hour longer than [REC], and every minute is sorely felt. Scenes go on just a little bit too long, and then tension and pace leak away. The original barrels in, assaults the viewer, and wraps up. Quarantine has the temerity to bore us, and thereby unintentionally demonstrates what a fine art editing is.Next, there is the question of sound design. The original, as I wrote before, features among the most terrifying aural attacks in recent memory. Quarantine somehow emasculates the sound, largely eliminating, as far as I could tell, the disturbing yowls of the infected/possessed. With the possible exception of the musical, the horror film is perhaps the cinematic genre whose impact on the viewer is most heavily dependent on sound, and Quarantine fumbles the ball.As for the visuals, both films are, of course, exercises in hand-held camera fake vérité. Quarantine, it seems to me, uses far more close-ups, and the overall effect is to make it far more (and needlessly) difficult to make out what is happening on the screen.Then there’s the plot. While this is the element where Quarantine deviates the least from its model, it does make one significant change. As our remaining characters enter the top floor apartment at the climax of the film, they find a collection of newspaper clippings that provide as much of an explanation as we’re going to get as to what is going on. Where [REC] strongly hinted at a supernatural agent, Quarantine opts for a far more prosaic doomsday virus. Yawn. So much for ambiguity, not to mention the chill of dark poetry that informs the resolution of the original.And speaking of finales, without giving too much away, there’s the problem of the final threat. This being, in [REC], is seen just enough to hint at terrible nightmares, and its barely glimpsed movements are jagged and most disturbing. Quarantine gives us far too close a look at its menace. Between too much visibility and the mundane explanation, what stands before us is not particularly scary. In fact, it’s rather silly.Taken on its own, Quarantine is not a terrible film. It’s entertaining, and its foundation is solid enough to resist complete disaster. But it is also pretty damn pedestrian, while the original was brilliant. And that, though utterly expected, is still sad.
How to Turn the Sublime Into the Meh
Posted in: Brain Blasters by David Annandale on October 18th, 2008