Directed by John Pogue (2011)
Reviewed by Mat, added on Jun 22 2011
Ah, zombies. Iím back to talking about them again! Hurray! I think Iím on a never ending quest to ďget itĒ. I know that eventually Iíll figure out the appeal because somewhere, someday there is going to be a zombie movie that does more than be mediocre, competent filmmaking of the same stories that were told 30 years ago! Okay, Iím being sarcastic. Mostly.
Quarantine was the American remake of the Spanish film Rec about a group of people trapped inside an apartment building trying to survive as one by one they turn into rabid, rage fueled zombies. Ostensibly, they are the same movie save for the final reveal. In Rec it turns out that the virus is supernatural in origin; demon possession. In Quarantine, itís a doomsday cult that wants to spread a virus to destroy humanity. It is unquestionable that Rec has the better reveal but since Quarantine didnít go that route the filmmakers of the sequel must work with what they were given. So here we get doomsday cult stuff inspired more by stuff like 24 and The Event than anything remotely unique. By the way, is Rec a zombie movie if the zombies are actually demons? Itís a fine line to draw but then again, zombie fans fight amongst themselves about whether ďinfectedĒ are zombies or not. Maybe we can put The Exorcist in the zombie category from now on? ďBut they say the word Ďvirusí in Rec so theyíre zombies!!!!!Ē Iím only half-joking, but I digressÖ
Quarantine was about a group of people trapped inside an apartment building as, one by one, they succumbed to slobbering, screeching zombies. Quarantine 2: Terminal is about a group of people trapped inside an airport terminal as, one by one, they succumb to slobbering, screeching zombies. At its essential bare core plot, Terminal is the same movie. I certainly donít have any problem with a group of people trapped in one place, and I certainly donít have a problem with all the characters devolving into anger, bitchiness, and double cross. In fact, I like that kind of movie. To their credit, the filmmakers of Terminal do their best to try and mix things up. First, this is the first film released in the Rec series that is not a found footage POV film. Itís traditionally shot if by ďtraditionallyĒ you mean ďEvery shot is handheld because thatís what all movies and TV shows seem to be in the 21st century.Ē The handheld isnít overly distracting, itís just noticeable distracting. And it adds to the cheap, low budget nature of the film. Second, the first 20 minutes of the movie take place on a plane and those happen to be the best 20 minutes of the movie. They introduce various characters and when a huge fat dude zombies out, it actually manages to create some harrowing, claustrophobic tension. But then they land and we get the rinse and repeat of the government putting them in quarantine, locking all their doors, shooting people who try to leave, etc. It becomes another ďLets find a way outĒ movie.
If youíre wondering how this relates to the original film (uhÖthe remake, I mean), basically one of the people on the plane is not who they appear to be and is part of the Doomsday Cult. The reveal of who it is couldnít be more obvious. They have this grand plan to murder everyone while deciding who lives and dies because they have the cure that was developed in the original apartment laboratory from the first film. In fact, the sequel takes place at the same time as the first film. People see the news reports of the apartment building on the plane itself and it turns out one of the characters is from the apartment. Itís a logical continuation I suppose, but you canít help but be totally uninterested in the terroristic ďletís spread a plagueĒ story device. Yawn.
ďBut zombie movies are about the characters!!!!Ē Thatís the default, tried and true defense by any zombie fan. Itís never about the zombies themselves, because hey, they all sort of look the same in every movie. They all sort of do the exact same thing. So itís about the characters negotiating the situation. Thatís a very different mindset and I donít quite understand it. For example, just comparing it to someone who is a slasher fan, for example. A slasher fan focuses on the monster/villain and the act of the death itself is placed in high regard (an amazing kill with a unique instrument, etc.) Characters in slashers are almost secondary in importance to the atmosphere and entertainment value of the slasher. A zombie fan argues the opposite. ďWe like the zombies, sure, but itís really about the trapped human characters.Ē The monsters are secondary, not primary. Therefore, the flaws in the hundreds of zombie films are amplified much moreso than in something like a slasher because if the importance is on the characters, then every time you see another character stereotype in a zombie film, it becomes that much more mind numbing. And with a slasher, the villain/monster can always be saved with his or her backstory and/or the way it kills people. Zombies? Mindless, limited, and they eat you. Thatís about it. I blame Tom Savini for showing me everything a zombie could do 30 years ago.
So in Quarantine 2, for example, weíve got the weak flight attendant who has to find her inner strength to lead the group. We have a whiny little kid. We have the headstrong douchebag with a gun. We have the obligatory chick who happens to be a nurse and can patch people up. You have the attractive male lead hiding a secret. Youíve got the old woman who is in over her head. Youíve got the hippie couple who like to have sex in public places. And you know, inevitably, what every arc to all these characters is going to be. They are generic, stale, and lazy. There was one character who I liked. It was an old man who was mute and nearly paralyzed from Parkinsonís. There was potential to do some cool stuff with this guy. So what do the filmmakers do? Immediately zombify him.
So if the characters suck and the zombies are what they are in every movie, then whatís left? Staleness. The mark of a tired, worn out genre. Slashers went through this phase in the 90′s. At some point the genre just needs to take a break and come back refreshed. Recently, I caught The Horde, another much ballyhooed zombie flick. I thought to myself as I watched it ďZombie fans are stretching.Ē I think you get to the point when there is such a lack of creativity being shown (and Iím talking about zombie films right now, maybe there is better stuff going on in other mediums) that you just gotta call it like it is. I mean, the torture subgenre. Itís done. Itís over. Iíve heard many zombie fans laugh on the tombstone of the Eli Rothís of the world. But honestly, zombies are kind of done right now. The market is over-saturated with garbage. Now, Iím not saying people canít enjoy zombies. Zombies are fine. And Iím not saying there canít ever be another good zombie movie. I would argue a bigger point that zombies have been ďdoneĒ since 1985, but this specific argument is simply about the recent cultural obsession with zombies that I completely blame the Dawn of the Dead remake on.
Terminal is an example of this. A movie that does nothing, says nothing, and recycles everything. No amount of acting ability (and the film does have some good performances) can cover up the one dimensional characters. Itís no longer tension to show zombies crawling around air ducts. Itís no longer interesting to see the military putting up plastic on the windows. Itís no longer interesting to see a person hiding a bite from the rest of the group. There are certainly people out there that do dig that, though. Repetition is a fundamental trait of the zombie movie and there are many who disagree with me. But I think people mistake a well made movie for a good movie. The Horde is a very slick, well made flick. Hell, the original Quarantine is a ďgoodĒ film by technical standards. Much different than some low budget garbage like Children of the Living Dead. But is there really anything different between The Horde and Gangs of the Dead other than better production values? Itís all essentially the exact same thing with only minor, cosmetic variations. I guess Iím arguing that Quarantine 2: Terminal is worse off because it does nothing at all new? Fuck, I donít even know what Iím talking about by this point.
Maybe in the end the point is that criticism of a recognizably stale, un-evolving genre is tough. My advice? Find some new ways to make zombies scary/unique/interesting. Make the monster primary rather than trying to make the characters so.