Director: John Erick Dowdle

Ever since the success of The Ring, it's become commonplace for popular foreign-language horror movies to be remade in English for quicker consumption by American audiences. Most of them end up being remakes of East Asian horror, as by my count, there have been nine remakes of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Thai horror movies between 2002 and today. And that's not counting sequels or non-horror Asian remakes like The Departed, Shall We Dance?, and The Lake House. But eventually, Hollywood was bound to remake a horror movie that wasn't Asian. Enter [·REC], a Spanish zombie movie that scared the crap out of me the first time I saw it. It apparently made an impression on someone in Hollywood, because the remake rights were sold even before it opened in Spain. Carrying the new title Quarantine, the remake came to American theaters only one year after the release of its source material. And while I absolutely loved [·REC], Quarantine just left me feeling like I had a wicked case of déjà vu.

QUARANTINE (2008)As the movie begins, we're introduced to Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter), the host of a television show focusing on the various social services that operate during the late-night hours. On this particular episode, Angela and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) are shadowing a team of Los Angeles firefighters during their nightly routine. Though much of the evening is comprised of rather mundane occurrences, things start picking up once the fire department gets called to help the police deal with a screaming elderly woman who has locked herself inside her apartment.

But when they break down the door, the woman goes absolutely berserk and violently attacks one of the responding policemen, nearly tearing his face off in no time flat. As they drag the injured cop back to the lobby, everyone is shocked to discover that the health department has quarantined as part of a biochemical hazard protocol. But while the quarantine causes everyone stranded inside the building to become irritable and paranoid, it has trapped them with something far worse than their own fears. A virus — resembling a super-advanced form of rabies — has somehow gotten loose inside the building, turning those it infects into enraged, bloodthirsty zombies.

I absolutely loved [·REC], so when Quarantine was released, I was curious to see how it would handle the source material. And as it turns out, Quarantine was almost identical to [·REC]. Sure, Quarantine is about fifteen minutes longer than [·REC], but outside of that, they're practically the same movie. I mean, it isn't quite a complete shot-for-shot copy like Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho. But the majority of Quarantine plays out exactly the same as the original movie. That made it hard for me to really get into Quarantine, because I felt like I was watching the same movie as before, only in English and with different actors.

It's not that the remake is a particularly bad movie or anything, but its delivery is different. It's all about the delivery. For example, someone tells you a hilarious joke. Someone else tells you the same joke later, only it's not as funny then, due to how the second person told it. That's the difference between [·REC] and Quarantine; they're both doing the same thing, only one is doing it better.

At the helm is John Erick Dowdle, who does as good a job as he can in replicating [·REC]. He doesn't quite match the visceral atmosphere of the original, though, partly because of how artificial Quarantine feels. In [·REC], things felt more natural because the guy playing the cameraman actually was the guy running the camera. Quarantine doesn't have that, sadly. The whole movie forced, like Dowdle was trying so hard to copy [·REC] that he never thought to try doing his own thing. He could have figured that you can't fix what isn't broken, but there's nothing wrong with trying to shake things up a little.

The same can be said for the script, written by Dowdle and his brother Drew. Outside of a tiny handful of exceptions, the script pretty much duplicates [·REC] as well. There's some padding to make Quarantine longer than [·REC]‘s 75-minute running time, and a few things are changed for American audiences. But as with the direction, the writing is pretty much identical to its source material. You're pretty much getting the same movie, ending and all. But as I said, something must have been lost in translation, because it simply doesn't feel the same. I guess I can't really fault the Dowdles for not trying to fix what isn't broken. But they don't really contribute anything to make their version stand out, either. That's really sad, too, because they had the chance to write a really scary movie. And instead, they just gave us something that's just okay at best.

All that's left to talk about is the acting, which I thought was a mixed bag to say the least. Like [·REC], Quarantine is the type of ensemble effort in which many of the ancillary characters blend into the background. It may be harder than usual to break this down into specifics, but I guess I'll try to wing it. In the lead role is Jennifer Carpenter, who I absolutely loved in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Unfortunately, her performance here is a disappointment. Carpenter begins the movie with a rather bubbly demeanor, and is actually pretty likable. But as the movie progresses, her character becomes more and more hysterical. It reaches the point that you almost want the zombies to get her and shut her up. While I'd assume that most people would probably act the same way if stuck in a similar situation, that doesn't make Carpenter any less annoying.

But on the other hand, we do get a strong performance from Jay Hernandez. Hernandez plays his character as someone trying to stay calm and level-headed even though he wants to panic, which I felt was a really good way to approach it. He's quite good in the role, and I can't complain. There are also some acceptable performances from Greg Germann, Jonathon Schaech, and Rade Sherbedgia, but outside of Carpenter and Hernandez, none of the performances are really all that memorable. But then again, most of the actors don't really do anything to make an impression. Some of them are just kinda there, and others overact to the point of being silly. Maybe that was the problem with Quarantine all along.

I know I've had a few complaints about Quarantine, but my biggest one is in regards to how the movie as promoted during its theatrical run. Believe it or not, but they actually gave away the ending of the movie. The trailers, the TV commercials, and even the poster feature the last shot of the movie. It's not as bad as when the plot twist in the remake of When A Stranger Calls was spoiled in its advertising, because you wouldn't know that was the ending of Quarantine unless you'd seen already seen [·REC]. (Or unless I spoiled it for you just now. Oops.) But still, it seems like a really rotten thing for an advertising campaign to do.

I've been writing this review with the belief that Quarantine was less a remake of [·REC] and more of a lame carbon copy of it. And I think that belief is true. But when viewed on its own merits, Quarantine is a thoroughly mediocre movie. It doesn't have the same sense of dread that enveloped [·REC], and the scares aren't as scary. The movie doesn't outright suck, but it could have been much better. If they really had to do an American version of [·REC], they could have just recorded an English dub of the original movie. They did it for High Tension, so why not for [·REC]? But now we're stuck with just a mediocre remake of a great movie, and that's just sad. So I guess I'll just give Quarantine a “thumbs in the middle” with three stars. It's at least adequate, but there was plenty of room for improvement.

Final Rating: ***