What if you went to a horror film and there’s not a single horror trailer before it starts? To this long-time horror fan, that’s got to be a first. Are the pickings so slim this year? There are distribution and marketing people out there letting stuff pick up dust, that’s for sure. Trick’r’Treat, anyone? This hasn’t been a banner year for fright fans. The Eye remake was well done, but to me it’s almost more of a spooky thriller than it is a straight horror film. For my money, before “Quarantine”, the only horror film that’s been pretty good in 2008 is the unjustly slaughtered One Missed Call remake, back in January. Some relief has arrived, however, with this rabid remake of the 2007 Spanish film [REC], by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza. The new version comes from John Erick Dowdle, director of the as yet unreleased Poughkeepsie Tapes.

Since it’s basically impossible to find a copy of [REC], we’ll go strictly with the new film, which is pretty good in its own right. The look and general thrust of the picture is from a cameraman’s point of view, something that worked tremendously for The Blair Witch Project but also for a film like Cloverfield, you might argue. This branch of horror is heavily dependent on framing and a sense of immediacy and less on editing –though in “Quarantine”, a few sudden cuts and black screens add to the disquieting atmosphere.

The film begins with Los Angeles TV reporter Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) running some intros for her Night Shift segment – her and Scott the camera guy (Steve Harris) will be shadowing a fire station. There we meet firemen Fletcher (Johnathon Schaech) and Jake (Hostel’s Jay Hernandez), and even the resident Dalmatian, who looks to be more useful than Fletcher at an actual fire – the latter gets whipped by Angela in a contest to see who puts on the gear the quickest. He seems like a happy-go-lucky goof, whose main contribution is the chick-o-meter (pointing out hot girls on the way to a call). It’s all fun and games at the station – playing some hoops, fooling around in the locker room – until a call comes to go to this apartment complex. It seems a woman’s been screaming like a lunatic on one of the upper floors – having fallen prey to a mad rage, she violently attacks a policeman, and from there the situation soon degenerates. In a shocking development (and a terrific example of framing and surprise), a body – or is the person dead yet? – lands with a horrible thud from the staircase, and the building quickly turns into a living hell. The apartment complex is sealed off, the CDC gets involved and we hear the word “rabies”, and then you know things are going from bad to worse to out of control. The police tell the media everybody’s been evacuated, but don’t you dare try to get out of the place, or Uncle Sam will make sure you don’t.

The film is not much of an actors’ showcase, but Carpenter is pretty intense – she had some measure of practice in the stellar The Exorcism of Emily Rose. For the most part, the cameraman’s point of view works well within the film and hey, you never know if that camera won’t come in handy if you need to kill the undead. Among the great scenes is one I call “the rock and the hard place”: on one side of an apartment, some of the survivors, who may not keep that status for long, have a young woman curled up in the corner, soon to be rabid and on the attack, and on the other side there’s a lost case, one or two bangs away from breaking free from that meagre door holding it back for a while. The ending isn’t among the greatest ever – I think there are too many worms in the can, if you will, but for a decent portion of its running time, “Quarantine” is as nerve-wracking and pulse-pounding as they come.

Review by Jean-François Tremblay