Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Quarantine" follows the formula of "Blindness" with some "Cloverfield" video journalism


One week after “Blindness”, we have “Quarantine” from Sony Screen Gems, directed by John Erick Dowdle, which combines the paradigms of the former movie (an epidemic, mostly in a confined building) with the video journalism style of “Cloverfield.” (No, they don’t destroy New York or LA; they’re trying to stop it). I’m reminded of how the advent of video journalism in the 1970s helped lead to a major strike while I worked for NBC, and I actually got to learn to operate a boom for a soap opera.

The first fifteen minutes has reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and camerman Scott (Steve Harris) doing a live-in report on an LA fire station. She shows the intimate, quasi-military lifestyle of “barracks” life for a fireman – with hints of the social and political implications. (I immediately recalled the Christian movie “Fireproof”). She even reports that firemen wear flame-retardant pantyhose close to their gams as they rappel down firepoles.

Pretty soon they get a call during this sleepover slumber party, and they arrive at an old apartment building that looks out of character for LA. One elderly woman is desperately ill and seems to be going mad. But as they are about to take her, the building is sealed off. It reminds me of the sealing off of the passenger train in “The Cassandra Crossing” which I saw in New York in 1977. Chaos ensues in the building, as the phone, cable and Internet are cut off. From rabbit ears TV (that could only work until Feb. 2009) they learn that the CDC has closed off the building. It isn’t long (the whole flick runs just 89 minutes) before we learn that the residents are spreading a sort of rabies, with transmission means about like that of Ebola (they attack each other). To the outside world, the residence takes on the character of Ft. Dietrich; inside, it’s all ruin. Vidal, normally professional, is reduced into the panic of her own survival. The movie opens to the outside world only a little at the end, much less than in "Blindness."

Eventually, all that is left of the incident is the videotape she made. Let’s say, it’s possible that a single resident could bring this on to the whole building, as an exercise of a weird cult. Back in the 1980s, a garden apartment building that I had occupied in Dallas would burn a few years after I left because one resident had an illegal meth lab.

Is this a plausible scenario? Could something like this really happen? Perhaps in any building, a resident (perhaps a disgruntled scientist or cult leader could do something like this with any of a list of pathogens if he or she had access. It could lead to a quarantine, perhaps secretive. Just look at what did happen shortly after 9/11 (and the government's misadventures in the investigations that follow). It is all pretty scary, although, for the last hour, “this is only a movie”. It is more a micro-disaster than a mega-disaster.

This film is apparently an adaptation of a film from Spain called "[Rec]" (2007) directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza from Filmax. In 2000 (before 9/11) there was another TV (ABC) filmed named "Quarantine" about a virus unleashed on a small village.

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