One week a month, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: In honor of the new sequel to the modern classic The Blair Witch Project, we look back at some of our favorite found-footage horror films.
By their pseudo-vérité nature, found-footage horror films aren’t really supposed to feature recognizable stars and/or flashy performances. In the best circumstances, actors affecting an everyday naturalism can help sell the illusion of reality. In lesser instances, the acting style can mute performers’ charisma and skills, turning them into just another set of blurs in the pretend camcorder footage.
Quarantine sidesteps that potential roadblock to some degree by following a character with on-camera experience: Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) is a news reporter trailing some firemen during a strange emergency call who, along with her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris), winds up trapped in a quarantined apartment building after the breakout of a dangerous virus (which is to say: zombie plague). Carpenter is far from a household name; she’s probably best known for her stint on Dexter, or her role as the title character in The Exorcism Of Emily Rose. But she nonetheless has enough wiggle room here to give an endearing and effective lead performance—no small thing in a subgenre sometimes dinged for its dimwitted or unlikable characters.
Quarantine is the American remake of the Spanish horror film REC, which also utilized a reporter and her cameraman as main characters. That’s not the only similarity the remake shares with its predecessor; the after-hours fire department set-up is the same (though the earlier version races through it a bit faster), the first-person zombie imagery is often recycled, and the confined sets look pretty similar. Despite its lack of novelty, though, Quarantine offers some decent scares, dashes of gnarly gore, and a capable, character-actor-heavy supporting cast.
But the main reason it stands out from other found-footage horror movies of its era is Carpenter. She lays important groundwork and establishes a winning presence early on, as she goofs around with her firefighter subjects while gathering human-interest news footage. This lends gravity to her moments of both fear and steeliness in the thick of the horror action; in REC, the Angela character gathers grit as the action escalates, but her earlier scenes are gigglier and briefer. (Carpenter makes the pre-horror section of the movie far more engaging than it needs to be.) Both Angelas have a tendency to sprint into harm’s way, a frustration with some found-footage characters that in both movies makes a kind of sense not always present in bad-decision-heavy horror. REC has more faux-interview footage, but Carpenter’s version of Angela seems more fueled by reporter’s instincts as the lack of outside help becomes clearer. Carpenter isn’t playing one of the great horror-movie heroines, but she gives it her best shot.
Availability: Quarantine is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased from the major digital services.