Eric D. Snider


Movie Review


by Eric D. Snider

Grade: B+

Released: October 10, 2008


Directed by:


Last year, a film called "[REC]" was released in Europe before making the rounds at the world's horror festivals, thrilling audiences with its you-are-there account of a viral outbreak in an apartment building that turns people into raging maniacs. The film is viewed entirely through the lens of a TV cameraman who accompanied the fire department that responded to an emergency call at the building; "[REC]" is meant to evoke the blinking text that appears at the bottom of a video camera's viewfinder when it's in use. It's the same narrative device used previously in "The Blair Witch Project," for example, and subsequently in "Cloverfield."

"[REC]" is a terrific horror movie, and its extremely faithful remake, "Quarantine," is nearly as good. But why remake the film at all, especially if you're going to follow the original so closely? Why not just release "[REC]" in the United States?

Because "[REC]" is in a different language, that's why. Spanish, to be specific. How can America's scare-happy young people be expected to view a film in which the actors speak in subtitles?

It's unfortunate, but a foreign-language genre film like "[REC]" would be consigned mostly to art houses and independent theaters, and it would make a couple million dollars, tops, in the U.S. An American remake, though, has unlimited potential, and this particular remake, by up-and-coming fringe director John Erick Dowdle, is fantastically scary and intense. Disregarding its Xeroxed pedigree, it's easily one of the best American horror films of the year. And why shouldn't it be? It's just like its source material, which was one of the best European horror films of last year.

Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) is the host of a TV series called "Night Shift," in which she and her cameraman, Scott (Steve Harris), hang out with an overnight crew on some job or other; this time it's a station of the Los Angeles Fire Department. We spend about 10 minutes following Angela as she gets to know the crew members, including the young and handsome Jake (Jay Hernandez) and the slightly older, slightly mustachioed, slightly skeevy Fletcher (Johnathon Schaech). ("I'll bet a hundred dollars I can bed her before the night's over," he tells the other firemen when he doesn't realize his microphone is on.)

But enough with the niceties. The station responds to a call at an old four-story apartment building where residents heard screams coming from an elderly woman's flat. The firemen and the police (including one played by Columbus Short) find the woman incoherent, snarling, and dangerous. She makes her point by attacking a policeman and ripping the flesh from his neck with her teeth.

Before the emergency personnel, Angela and Scott, and the building's residents know what's happening, the place is locked down by the Centers for Disease Control. No one can enter or leave the apartment building, and those still inside are left to deal with the "28 Days Later"-style virus that makes its victims turn all murder-y.

And that's basically all there is to it, plot-wise. Oh, there are some details about the cause of the virus, and some plans for escaping from the quarantined building, but you're not interested in those. What the original directors, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, did exceedingly well, and what Dowdle expertly recreates, is the sense that the audience is part of the action. The film was shot in a real apartment building, with most of the gruesome special effects done "live," not with post-production digital trickery. (People who know how movies are made will have a lot of "How did they do that?" moments, followed by smiling admiration for the sleight-of-hand involved.) With just one camera to shoot everything, there can be very little cutting away or editing. It feels like a suspenseful, gory version of one of those murder-mystery dinner-theater shows, where you mingle with the actors and observe the story unfolding all around you.

The screenplay (credited to Dowdle and his brother Drew) seems to allow for some improvisation among the actors, which contributes to the film's natural, believable tone. But a few scenes are marred by unconvincing histrionics, the sort of shrieking where it sounds like the actor is guessing at what a frightened person would say and can only come up with what he or she has seen other movie characters do.

As for why Scott keeps filming even when his life is in peril -- well, that's always the question in these first-person movies, isn't it? I guess you just have to accept it as part of the film's concept. In Scott and Angela's view, the camera is a weapon -- literally, at one point -- and the only way to document the egregious offenses committed by the entities that quarantined the building and gave up on its occupants. If Scott hadn't kept filming, we'd never know what happened to these people! What's more, we'd be denied the funhouse chills that come from seeing the disaster unfold in a confined space. Bodies dropping from upper-story landings, savages leaping from darkened corridors, a rabid German shepherd in an elevator -- this is a recipe for good old-fashioned terror, no matter what language it's in.

Grade: B+

Rated R, a lot of harsh profanity, a lot of very bloody violence and gore

1 hr., 29 min.

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This item has 18 comments

  1. Chris says:

    I agree that the remake is unnecessary. It is like taking Pan's Labyrinth and going, "Hey, let's make our own American version...this time starring Abigail Breslin," or, "Dakota Fanning." But i did hear plenty of good things about this remake. I will see it, for since i saw [REC] i've been afraid of a whole bunch of bumping noises coming from dark areas/ [REC] FTW!!!!

  2. NoVaDJ says:

    I know so many people that will not watch a film with subtitles and having worked at a video store it always irked me when customers were so happy whenever there's an English dub on a foreign DVD. REC was one of my favorite movies and I was upset when I heard they were remaking it, but I decided to see for myself how it compared and was very surprised that even though I knew most of what was going to happen, they had managed to up the tension even more....BUT, the last 10 minutes of REC are far more disturbing and scary than this version. During the finale of REC I had to put my hands up to my eyes because the visuals were more nightmarish. I'm puzzled by all negative reviews of Jennifer's hysterics at the end, how do they expect a reporter who's just used to doing fluff local news pieces to react when the room is pitch black and you've been through all that trauma for 80 min?!

  3. Clumpy says:

    "virus that makes its victims turn all murder-y."

    As always, it's the little touches that keep me reading :).

    You can learn a lot about someone from whether they hate subtitles. For one thing, they're an ignorant, xenophobic little prickwad with the attention span of a puppy. I said that out loud, didn't I?

  4. Karen says:

    Wow, Clumpy, that's quite a jump you made. I love foreign films, but even I have a hard time with subtitles occasionally because I'm a slow reader. Sometimes I miss the action because I'm still reading. That would be particularly problematic in a horror film.

  5. dsheik says:

    Karen - ditto. Clumpy, you can't learn anything from whether or not someone hates subtitles or anything else for that matter. You can only learn something if you find out why they hate it. Ask any movie maker in the world whether they think about subtitles when making a movie. I guarantee all of them will say no. They are using a medium based on audio and visual cues. You miss a lot of the subtleness in visual cues when your eye is focused on catching every word in the subtitle. Hell, I have trouble hearing some times and leave the close caption on and even then I find my eye focusing more on the words than the actors. It's very distracting. However, I will chose subtitles over dubbed versions any day, as there's something disconcerting about seeing a mouth move one way and the words not matching. The question I have is if they were going to remake this, why not bring in the original director like they did with El Mariachi?

  6. JeremyB says:

    Wow Clumpy, how classy! If only we were all as erudite, xenophilic, and anti-prickwad as you. Please imbue upon us more of your insightful diatribe so that we may bask in your blessed insights. Perhaps our attention spans will lengthen and reading subtitles will start to bring meaning to our pathetic lives. Clearly you are better than us--we cower in your presence.

    I am wondering though: Don't you have anything better to do at 4:38 in the morning than sit in front of your computer and insult people? Jeesh. Get a life.

  7. Murphey says:

    I thought about how a movie as photographically frantic as [REC] would be handled coming to an English speaking audience, and the difference between the conventionally shot foreign films and this pseudo-guerrilla camera work is easily still frame versus constantly moving and even jerking photography. How can you really put subtitles on a movie like that? Dubbing is clearly silly because of the Kung Fu lip tracking factor and poor voice acting, so to remake this film in English is really the only way to bring this to a very, very, very large audience. But does the film need to be remade and exposed at all? I mean, wasn't Cloverfield essentially the English [REC]? Oh well, so much for risks in mainstream entertainment.

  8. Benji says:

    why do americans always have to ruin films by re-doing them so the largely stupid population of the US of A can watch it whilst stuffing their fat mouths full off popcorn and "soda". just watch it with the subtitles on for gods sake its a great film!

  9. Jenn says:

    Saw this the other day (can't do horror movies at night...such a wuss!), & I literally stopped stuffing my mouth with popcorn!! Once the crew hit the apartment building, I spent the rest of the movie with my hands near my eyes, like a 5 year old, so I could cover them quick! Very creepy, but very well done. This is how horror movies should be made, not the cheap bloody ones that are made for teenage boys.

  10. ryan says:

    I wonder if watching REC without subtitles would be fun. If it's 90 minutes of people screaming, not understanding them could make it more freaky...

  11. Linda Pifer says:

    Why hasn't any body addressed what caused this plague. I decided, from the film (rightly or wrongly) that this was a bioterrorist plot, perhaps by the vet in the film. I'm assuming the rabid dog was infected by a rabid rat, kept by the evil scientist (the vet?). I also assume that the mad scientist was developing a variant of rabies virus that expressed its

    worst effects much earlier than ordinary rabies (can have a month-long incubation period). Do any others have ideas about that? I thought it was an engrossing movie, but left a lot of answers unanswered. LP

    By the way, I'm a virologist, but not a mad scientist! I want people to stay healthy.

  12. echoboy says:

    "Why can't you Americans [comment about american laziness]?"

    "Why do you have to [fat remark] ?"

    "When are you going to [reference to Americans being dumb]?

    Sing me another song. I've heard this one too many times before!

    Oh, and I felt this movie was quite effective, and wouldn't have worked with subtitles. Not to say that I don't care for movies with subtitles. I just think this one was better without.

  13. Dan says:

    Dude. Kudos on the positive review. You got it when not many people seem to have gotten int. But saying, "It's easily one of the best AMERICAN horror films OF THE YEAR" is not a compliment. There are very few horror films in any 10 year period INTERNATIONALLY that are that are actually SCARY. Very few. That this flick was actually scary AND riveting ranks it way up there.

  14. Alex Thorne says:

    with all this arguing about subtitles, were all forgetting the main point of this film and its predecessor REC. that is, to totally scare the living Brown Stuff out of us!. i have watched alot of horror in my time, although itr is a given that ive only seen a miniscule proportion of the countless horror films available. however i can easily say that REC is, no word of a lie, easily the most mind bendingly scary film iv eever had the pleasure of watching. The remake des seem a little unnessecary, but if it allows this little spanish diamond to be given the universal high praise that it deserves, then i am all for viewing 'Quarantine'

  15. David Manning says:

    I really admired the scene where the camera itself was used as a weapon. I'd like to learn how they managed to pull that off in real time.

  16. Clumpy says:

    FYI, I can't imagine why I would say something so obnoxious, unless I was trying for an ill-advised joke. Though it took me awhile to get back to this let me apologize if I offended anybody by saying something stupid (ugh). I don't always have a good eye for making my irony clear.

  17. Biz says:

    Excellent Horror movie! Very claustrophobic and atmospheric. Although the Quarantine is identical remake-copy of Spanish Rec, it is still very good.

  18. Corbin G says:

    SPOILERS -----I have not yet seen REC, but I can't lie, this movie was completely stupid. I couldn't find one single thing I liked about the entire film due to the people in it being so completely STUPID. From standing next to somebody that is going to bite them, to holding your hand out to a little girl, covered in blood, who you very well KNOW is dangerous?

    And I won't even mention how many times the cameraman points the camera at random people, instead of the dangerous person standing less than 5 feet away?

    This movie pissed me off with how stupid the characters were. You want to see a smart zombie film? See Dawn of the Dead.

    "What? A woman tried to bite this guy to death? What? A guy upstairs alone with this woman was thrown from a balcony and nearly killed? Ok everybody, in that case, we need to group up downstairs, where there are no doors to hide behind, no weapons of any kind, and stand around. The people outside who locked us in here at gunpoint know what they are doing, so lets just wait here for them.

    Again I say, so freaking stupid.

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