A passably engaging claustrophobic horror thriller that a little more than halfway through reveals the limitations of its mode of storytelling and visual scheme, Quarantine is told entirely via hand-held footage shot by one of its characters. The story — about a television reporter who accompanies a group of firefighters into a Los Angeles tenement building, only to get sealed in after encountering a virulent, mutant strain of rabies — works for a while as a goosing stylistic exercise before descending into nonsensical confusion, hamstrung by aggressively panicked camerawork, a lack of spatial clarity and a clumsy attempt at backstory explanation.
A remake of Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza's 2007 Spanish movie [Rec], Quarantine skips any introductory credits, opening with human interest reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter, above) and her cameraman, Scott Percival (Steve Harris), on a shadow assignment and on site with a Los Angeles fire department crew. Two firemen (Jay Hernandez and Johnathon Schaech) are assigned as their guides for the evening, and some flirting and good-natured chiding ensues between Angela and the guys.
Eventually responding to a late-night call with Angela and Scott in tow, the firefighters, as well as some policemen, come upon an elderly woman who bites one of the officers. When they attempt to get medical help, Angela and the first responders find that they have been sealed in the building. With no power, cell phone reception or immediate answers about their predicament, panic mounts. Soon some of the rest of the residents — including a veterinarian, an accountant and an immigrant couple — succumb to bites from both infected animals and humans, setting off a mad dash by survivors to try to barricade themselves away from the frenzied, foaming-mouthed diseased.
In similar fashion to The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, Quarantine posits itself as an exercise in found footage. Director John Eric Dowdle (The Poughkeepsie Tapes) does a good job blending lurking, corner-of-one's-eye mayhem with some in-camera effects (one memorable sequence finds Scott using the camera as a blunt-force weapon), but the script has trouble establishing a clear timeline as it relates to the infected, so many times its switch-overs come across as cheaply dramatically convenient.
Also, somewhat fatally, there's never a keen sense of space established within the building. This renders much of Quarantine's shaky-cam action especially unclear and unsatisfying. Finally, a finale which attempts to further clarify the origin of the strain of rabies comes across as very puzzlingly conceived, and entirely at cross purposes with the adrenalized nature of the entire rest of the story. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (Sony/Screen Gems, R, 89 minutes)