Monday, October 20, 2008


Imagine "Cloverfield" taking place in a creepy apartment complex with residents trying to elude zombies rather than in New York City as a "Godzilla" monster tries to stomp them, and you'll have the gist of "Full Moon Rising" director John Erick Dowdle's "Quarantine." Like "Cloverfield," "Quarantine" (** out of ****) tells its story from the perspective of a television news videographer. The entire movie is literally seen through the camera viewfinder. This tense, eerie, sometimes exciting epic will only frighten filmgoers who have never seen a good zombie movie. What could have been a surefire horror classic is marred by a hammy lead actress and the marginal originality of writer & director John Erick Dowdle and co-scenarist Drew Dowdle's screenplay. The Brothers Dowdle have remade the formulaic Spanish horror thriller "REC" (2007) that co-directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza wrote with Luis A. Berdejo. In "REC," a reality TV crew shadows fire department personnel as they try to free a woman holed up in her apartment. The Dowdle Brothers have appropriated the bare-bones Spanish supernatural saga and added more zest to their flesh-eating disease chiller, but their low-budget and lack of imagination undermine them in the long run.

The Dowdles do a solid job of setting up the premise. Budding TV journalist Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter of "The Exorcism of Emily Rose") and her cameraman Scott Percival (Steve Harris of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman") cover the night shift at a Los Angeles Fire Department station. While they await an inevitable 911 call, fellow firefighters Jake (Jay Hernandez of "Hostel") and George (Johnathon Schaech of "The Doom Generation") bond with the heroine and show her the ropes in what amounts to a variation on the John Travolta movie "Ladder 49." Giddy Angela gets to slide down the fire pole while her poor cameraman records her escapades. These two carefree firefighters compete each other to see who can get Angela in the sack first. Alas, they have forgotten that they are still wearing their microphones from an earlier interview and she can hear them. About a half-an-hour into the action, our heroes get more than they could have imagined in their worst nightmare when they respond to an alarm at an ordinary downtown apartment house. Arriving at the scene, the LAPD accompany our firefighters into the apartment complex and discover an older woman bathed in blood that doesn't look too congenial at first sight. Before our heroes know it, she takes a bite out of them and eventually everybody turns into skin-eating zombies.

Later, we learn that one of the residents had taken his infected dog to a veterinarian and the doctor diagnosed a mysterious virus in the canine's system. The LAPD and a crew from the Center for Disease Control surround and seal off the apartment complex. A heavily armed S.W.A.T. team brandishes their assault rifles and threatens to shoot anybody inside who sets foot outside the complex until their own haz-mat personnel can get inside to examine the bodies. Meanwhile, the firefighters and our heroine struggle to find a way out. Before long they learn from a television broadcast that they don't stand a chance in Hades of getting out alive. Initially, residents who appeared mildly sick now mutate into zombies and our heroine and her cameraman record everything as evidence.

Sadly, "Quarantine" suffers from several problems. First, the flighty TV journalist displays an obnoxious penchant for screaming at the least provocation. Furthermore, none of the characters emerge as remotely sympathetic. They emerge as nothing more than victims. Second, the Dowdles rely on the first-person point of view of the cameraman to generate thrills and chills. At one point, Scott uses his camera to bludgeon a zombie. Even the other dogs in the building turn into flesh-eaters. However, the filmmakers do nothing with these mutant zombies that horror movie fanatics haven't seen in previous films. Third, the authorities don't know how to kill zombies. Fourth, since the zombies never die, they multiply rapidly and munch on the residents as if they were Lays potato chips. For example, a uniformed LAPD officer pours a hail of bullets into the old Hispanic woman and the impact knocks her down. Nevertheless, he doesn't blow her head off, so she gets back up later and keeps on gnawing. Every zombie movie fanatic knows that the only way to kill a zombie is to shoot the sucker in the head. Mind you, the panicky camera work and the claustrophobic apartment complex with its shadowy premises will keep some people poised on the edge of their seats. "Quarantine" knows how to set-up a scary scene, but the pay-off is too predictable to make any of this exercise in helter-skelter chaos seem chilling. If you've seen the trailer, you've seen the best part of this nail-biter with an ending lifted from "Silence of the Lambs."