Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Night 14: Quarantine

My wife surprised me for my birthday last night with the news that our babysitter was on the way and we were headed out for dinner and a movie. If you don't have young children, you simply can't understand the joy this evoked. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm waned a bit after checking the listings at nearby theaters. The only thing even remotely worth seeing was Quarantine--sure, I typically dislike remakes but it would fulfill my blog duties and allow me to compare notes against the original. But my wife hates horror movies and I knew better than to suggest it. Turns out I didn't have to. She already knew the times it was playing and had pretty much made the choice on her own.

The surprises ended there. As expected (and predicted) Quarantine had more gore, more jokes, a higher body count, slicker production values, and additional plot details. If less is more, then more is certainly less. It is not possible to explain exactly why Quarantine is infinitely less scary than [•REC] without spoiling both films, but I will try to do it metaphorically.

Maintaining a state of fear is a delicate, high-wire act, more difficult than inducing pathos or even laughter. The audience's role is small but critical--they must mentally vanish the safety netting. For their part, the storytellers have to erect the big top, hire the clowns, train the elephants, etc., etc. But most of all, they have to sell the peril of the wire walker. One false step and the illusion is broken. Quarantine was full of small false steps, and several big ones. The small ones involved simple things like inauthentic set design, artificially flavored popcorn, a certain lack of ferocity in the lion. The big ones were giving a familiar name and basis in fact to the proceedings, and blowing each and every critical scene.

The makers of Quarantine were like the carnival barker who oversells the big reveal. I don't want to know the medical term for what ails Lobster Boy. I just want to gawk at his freakishness. Don't show me the headless chicken running around erupting blood. The white of the geek's eyes gone wide and wacked after he bites off the head is much more haunting.

[•REC] only has three or four big scares, but each of them ratchets up the tension and builds inexorably towards a terrifying climax. The placement and composition of these scenes allows the viewer to see just enough, but no more. Quarantine, on the other hand, had no choreography, no pacing. The scares seemed to arrive pell mell and the acting was far less naturalistic. Aesthetically, it was like the difference between a clown routine at Barnum and Bailey and a palm reading in a gypsy caravan.

In short, I want a refund.

Scorecard (out of ten skulls):
Scare Factor:

My psychological status:
a year older

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