To cut a long story short: Don’t job shadow for firemen. That’s what reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman, Scott Percival (Steve Harris) do one night. After spending almost the entire night doing nothing with the two firefighters that they’re supposed to do a story on, they finally get a call. Prior to the call, we watched people slide down poles, eat food, and have a boring time. Representative of real firefighter life? It very well could be.
Anyway, we’re told that firefighters actually go to far more medical emergencies than fires. What they’re heading to today isn’t a fire, but calling it a “medical emergency” is a bit of an understatement. There was a 911 call after some residents of an apartment building heard a woman scream very loudly. After getting inside, checking on the woman, getting attacked by the woman, and then trying to leave to get more help, the group finds out that they’re now locked inside — and the bodies are quickly piling up thanks to a series of sicknesses. The building is under quarantine. Clever.
But what’s causing the deaths? People seem to become ravenous for absolutely no reason at all. Their eyes glow red, they can no longer speak, and they head directly for the nearest living person, attempting to rip flesh from bone. What has gotten into them? If I told you, I’d be spoiling, but just let me explain what one character, who is a veterinarian and not a doctor, thinks is going on: Super-rabies. No, seriously. The symptoms appear to be like rabies, except they’re occurring much faster than the disease we currently understand. Surprisingly, this classification makes more sense than what is really going on, but I’ll leave you to discover that for yourself. That is, unless you already have with the Spanish film that Quarantine is a remake of, [REC].
Essentially, there are a few things going on here. Firstly, the characters have to figure out a way to survive the infected people in the building. Since the diseased are trying to eat them — and possibly infect them as well — this seems like a good plan. They have a gun with limited ammunition, handcuffs, and whatever weapons they find lying around. They’re not particularly interested in killing, though, so they spend more time running than anything else.
The next objective is to try to escape the building. It’s locked down, but the apartment manager (Rade Serbedzija) seems to have a few ways of getting out despite this. Or, at least a few ideas that might work but could also lead to the characters getting shot at because letting the disease escape is the worst thing ever, apparently. Almost as many people die trying to escape as they do by getting infected. It seemed that way, anyway.
Finally, they have to film everything that goes on inside so that, whenever they manage to escape, they’ll be able to show people exactly what’s happened. Our perspective is that of the camera held by Scott, meaning we’re getting an entire film shot in shaky-cam. The idea is that it’ll help to immerse us in the environment, even though I don’t know a single person who would continue filming while being chased after someone whose sole intention is killing them. But, that’s Scott for you, I guess; he’s the world’s most dedicated cameraman.
Filming in such a way also helps things on the technical side of the production. You can make your film for cheap, especially if the power conveniently goes out at some point in the film, as you only have to show a little bit of what’s going on, and a handheld camera from a news reporter isn’t going to be the clearest thing out there. Of course, the power does go out part way through Quarantine, and at this point, everything gets very chaotic.
Once everything goes dark, the camera provides one of the only light sources. That means that everything around the camera is completely black, which means that infected can pop out from anywhere — and disappear just as quickly. You’re going to get a lot of jump scares while watching Quarantine, although they work because the film has a scary atmosphere. This isn’t a building I would want to be trapped in, and the shaky-cam technique helped immerse me, while also scaring me.
The acting isn’t particularly good or bad, suffering from “let’s act as hysterically as possible for most of the time” syndrome, assuming that’s a real affliction and not something I made up because it’s a convenient way to describe most of the characters in this film. The acting isn’t even really that bad; it’s just annoying as could be. As soon as something slightly scary goes wrong, Carpenter (and sometimes other characters as well, but mostly her) will go into a corner and begin hyperventilating, panicking, and otherwise sounding as if she needs a pacifier. Keeping it up for as long as some of the shots demand is impressive enough, but it really got on my nerves after a while.
Quarantine is an effective horror film thanks to its use of the shaky-cam and darkness, which give it atmosphere and make the jump scares actually work. The plot is silly, although thankfully no ghosts get involved, and the hysterics from the performances are annoying, but the perspective the film gives us manages to keep things scary. I jumped, my heart pounded hard for a while, and I had a fun time for the most part while watching this film.