Considering the mediocre and bad “prestige” movies that have opened recently (“Blindness,” “Miracle at St. Anna”), it's hard to understand why Screen Gems had decided not to hold advance screenings for the press for their horror thriller “Quarantine,” directed by John Erick Dowdle from a screenplay penned by him and his brother Drew Dowdle.

The screening I attended on Friday afternoon was populated by teenagers, who looked like high-schoolers or young college students and seemed to be having a good time with the B-picture that unfolded on screen. Brief (only 85 minutes), fast-moving, unpretentious and displaying serviceable production values, “Quarantine” delivers the basic goods of a schlocky horror flick, the kind of which I used to see around Times Square, when I was a film student at Columbia University and needed cheap and quick gratification, like junk food.

“Quarantine” is the American remake of the 2007 superior Spanish thriller, “REC.” Producer Sergio Aguero claims that he had “discovered” the award-winning Spanish movie REC during a trip to Spain. But if you follow developments in foreign cinema, you would know that “REC” was not an obscure generic item, but a film that actually won Goya Awards, Spain's equivalent of our Oscars, for Best Editing and Best New Actress. (In the American remake, the editing is O.K., but the acting all around is rather poor).

The yarn's premise is quite intriguing: For a reality TV show about people who work while the rest of the world is asleep, reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) are assigned to cover a night shift with firemen at a Los Angeles fire station. After an uneventful evening, a 911 distress call in the middle of the night lead them to an apartment building Downtown. When they arrive, police officers are already on the scene in response to bloodcurdling screams coming from an apartment on the third floor. Opportunistic, and sensing that they have stumbled onto a breaking story, Angela and Scott are determined to record everything as evidence, be the first to get it all on tape.

Just from the description of the central concept, you can rightly expect comparisons and thematic and technical similarities with “The Blair Witch Project,” and more recently with “Cloverfield.”

When first breaking into the apartment to investigate, they find an old woman in a nightgown standing alone in the dark. She's covered in blood, her breathing erratic and raspy. She seems sick. And when a policeman approaches to help her, she suddenly attacks with peculiar weaponry, her teeth. (Teeth seem popular in recent American films, though here they are used for scares and frills rather than as sexual threat, as in the Sundance indie “Teeth” last year).

The group subdues the woman and tries to get help for the injured policeman. But when they attempt to leave the complex, they find that the CDC has quarantined the building. All exits are sealed and guarded by heavily armed men. Telephone, Internet, TV, and cell phone access have been cut-off. Worse, the officials won't give any explanation to those locked inside.

The apartment complex and its residents quickly get into a panic mode, and you can't blame them for that. Trying to make sense of what's happening, the inhabitants, who represent a disparate aggregate of individuals, are forced to rely on each other for help.

One scream follows another, and soon there's another scream from above. In the atrium lobby where the residents are gathered, a body falls to the ground from the third floor, and the attacks resume, in escalating order.

When the quarantine is finally lifted, the only evidence of what took place is the cameraman's videotape. But is it reliable as a valid source of information, having been shot from the subjective perspective of an observer, and under conditions of duress, to say the least.

The only improvement of this American remake over the Spanish original is in title, as “Quarantine” exploits and cashes in on the dreaded meanings of the concept, which signifies fear, disease, stigma, and isolation, all timely and relevant issues in the post 9/11 social and ideological climate.

Other changes from the original include tone and mood: The Spanish movie was more supernatural, whereas “Quarantine” tries to ground its saga in a more realistic context. The filmmakers play up the characters' paranoia caused by the fact that the government, an agency expected to protect and rescue us, here becomes the silent, bureaucratic enemy, keeping its citizenry in the dark, thus increasing their anxieties.

The siblings John and Drew Dowdle, who adapted the script to an American locale before seeing the final Spanish cut, are not untalented. The duo had previously written the docu-style thriller “The Poughkeepsie,” which had some artistic merits.

“Quarantine” benefits from taking place almost entirely in real time. In this technically smart feature, most of the scenes meander in and out of apartments, and up and down the central staircase, lasting several minutes before the screen turns black or whip-pans into the next scene. Rather shrewdly, the transitions from one scene to another are made with more or less hidden cuts.

Problem is, at this phase, the Dowdles are not good (perhaps even careless) with their actors. As a movie, “Quarantine” also suffers from being a cheap quickie, one developed and made rapidly, as if the producers were afraid that someone else in Hollywood would steal and use the Spanish premise before them.

I have no doubts that “Quarantine” would be commercially popular with young audiences this weekend, and also suspect that by next weekend, the picture would be gone.


Angela Vidal – Jennifer Carpenter
Scott Percival – Steve Harris
Jake – Jay Hernandez
George Fletcher – Johnathon Schaech
Danny Wilensky – Columbus Short
James McCreedy – Andrew Fiscella
Yuri – Rade Sherbedgia
Lawrence – Greg Germann
Bernard – Bernard White
Sadie – Dania Ramirez


A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems presentation of a Vertigo Entertainment/Andale Pictures production. Produced by Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Sergio Aguero.
Executive producers: Glenn S. Gainor, Drew Dowdle, Julio Fernandez, Carlos Fernandez. Directed by John Erick Dowdle.
Screenplay: John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, based on the Spanish film “REC,” written by Jaume Balaguero, Luis A. Berdejo, Paco Plaza.
Camera: Ken Seng.
Editor: Elliot Greenberg.
Production designer: Jon Gary Steele.
Art director: Chris Cornwell.
Set decorator: Dena Roth.
Costume designer: Maya Lieberman.
Sound: Shawn Holden.
Stunt coordinator: Lance Gilbert.
Associate producer: Nicolas Stern.
Assistant director: Adam Druxman.
Casting: Lindsey Hayes Kroeger, David H. Rapaport.

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 85 Minutes.