John Erick Dowdle's coldly calculating Quarantine plugs simultaneously into three of the hottest trends sweeping horror movies since masked, seemingly indestructible madmen began disemboweling horny, beer-drinking teenagers. Like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Diary Of The Dead, and Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon, it's a cinéma vérité horror film compiled from ostensibly real footage shot by one of its characters. Like just about every horror film since The Ring, it's also a remake of a recent foreign fright flick, in this case the 2007 Spanish chiller [Rec]. Finally, it's the latest in a lurching, erratic line of horror movies about zombies, or at least zombie-like ghouls. Quarantine isn't original, but at least it offers a relatively novel synthesis of ubiquitous trends.
Jennifer Carpenter stars as a plucky television reporter who spends a night covering the everyday heroes at a local fire department. Events take an ominous turn when the firefighters respond to a call from a spooky old apartment building that's home to an apparently rabid old woman. The building is quickly quarantined, and Carpenter, her cameramen, and firefighter Jay Hernandez wind up battling obstacles from all sides: zombie-like ghouls in the building, and shadowy government operatives on the outside trying to keep them escaping.
Quarantine gets off to an encouragingly believable start, as Carpenter flirts and jokes her way through introductory meetings with her testosterone-heavy subjects. The first act has an agreeably loose, improvisational feel, but the verisimilitude weakens once the bloodshed begins. Why do these brawny firefighters and police officers let Carpenter keep filming them after her cute little human-interest story devolves into a brutal, bloody quest for survival? Shouldn't the cameraman concentrate on getting out of this nightmare alive rather than scoring sweet-ass footage? Alas, without the constant shooting, there would be no film. Carpenter's performance similarly devolves once she stops playing a strong, assertive character and turns into a running, screaming, crying machine. Dowdle manages a few nice shocks and some neat moments of pitch-black gallows humor, but Quarantine nevertheless feels awfully familiar, and it grows less convincing with each passing moment. At its worst, it abandons realism entirely and flirts with gory kitsch.