Friday, October 09, 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again

What Quarantine (2008, directed by John Erick Dowdle) reminds me of is Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho. It's essentially the same damn movie as its forbearer, but in playing the notes, it somehow misses the music. It's interesting watching this movie so soon after watching [•REC], because it makes identifying what went wrong so much easier. I really do want to emphasize that this is the SAME movie. Same plot, same ending (more or less--there is one significant change), even the same shot set-ups for the most part. And yet it winds up running eleven minutes longer. Go figure.

As I see it, Quarantine makes two mistakes. First, it has a recognizable cast. Worse, Jennifer Carpenter as the lead is miscast. This mitigates the documentary "this is real" vibe that the original item had. Second, it injects a sexual tension in its early going that makes it seem more like a movie than a television news piece. This just doesn't work.

Quarantine does have a larger budget than the original, and it shows this giving the audiences more glimpses of the containment outside the building. There are also more inmates in the building, which means there are more zombies in the end. These two elements intersect when snipers take out one of the victims who gets too close to one of the windows.

Okay, I take it back. The movie this reminds me of isn't Psycho, it's the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Like that movie Quarantine is presented with a primal original that's low on cliches. The filmmakers will have none of that, of course, and like the drunks at Platinum Dunes, they've poured everything they can think of back into it.

I'm much more sanguine about Splinter (2008, directed by Toby Wilkins). This is another film that's assembled from familiar elements, but that's the nature of genre, I guess. You pick and choose from the same pool of ideas. The story follows two couples, one a couple of criminals on the lam who have taken the other couple--a young scientist and his girlfriend--hostage. The movie strands these characters in a remote gas station besieged by the victims of some kind of parasite that spreads itself as splinters. It's an interesting monster, actually, recalling the vines in The Ruins and the alien in The Thing. The monster provides an excuse for some fairly inventive gore effects. The monster acts as a contagion, too, in the tradition of Romero's zombies. So, for the most part, this is familiar stuff.

What isn't familiar is the design of the monster. That's fun to watch. And unlike Quarantine, it doesn't obviously indulge in cliches (besides its borrowed genre elements, I suppose). The characters are interesting. The scientist is a nicely non-traditional hero, though he takes a back seat to his tough girlfriend and the fleeing convict. Its fun watching them trying to find a way out of their predicament because none of them is obviously stupid. The film also has an agreeably unfamiliar setting. Filmed in Oklahoma, it doesn't LOOK like most films of its ilk.

All in all, it's an efficient, brutal genre film, well-executed.

Current Tally:

6 films

5 first time viewings

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