Novelist Scott Sigler’s horror column appears every Thursday.
Zombies in a city — we’ve seen this movie a million times, right? The slow shuffle through dark streets, decomposing lips and tongues sliming taxicab windshields, cars screeching and crashing, fire, screams, etc., etc. Is there any way to tell that story in a new way?
Surprisingly, there is, and Quarantine is going to tell it when it hits theaters tomorrow.
At first glance, Quarantine is yet another movie with a contrived plot that allows for “believable” handheld footage. You know the drill: The protagonists have a camera, they carry said camera around in the midst of a lethal, freakish situation instead of dropping it and running their asses off — because after all, documenting the horror for prosperity is far better than just staying alive. They take many shaky, unfocused shots, the camera is recovered after protagonists die, and — oh my gosh — see how believable this all looks? You could say Quarantine is like Cloverfield in an apartment building (with zombies instead of camera-shy giant monsters), while at the same time realizing Cloverfield is Blair Witch in a city (but with camera-shy giant monsters instead of dudes that make you face the wall). Sure, this strategy has been done before — and looked like crap before — so why would we want to see it again?
What Makes Quarantine Different
Because Quarantine‘s hook isn’t the handheld camera work, it’s the spin on the standard zombie plot. The usual undead scenario is to make your impregnable fortress out of whatever building is handy: Farm house, rooftop, and… the historically popular choice: Shopping mall. You sprint for the building, the zombies either snapping at your heels (new school speedy zombies) or stumbling along in your wake (old school shambling mound zombies). You get inside, and then you:
1. Bar the doors
2. Search for weapons
3. Start boarding up the windows
4. Deal with the person in your group who was probably bitten, but you’re not quite sure, and you should just shoot him in the head, but the do-gooders in your survival party say, “No no, he’s OK.” You know you should shoot him in the head, but you cave because you don’t want to be a cro-mag and when he does indeed go all zombie on you and eats your love interest, you become very angry.
Quarantine flips the script on that setting. Instead of getting inside a building and repelling invaders, you’re trying to get out while the authorities are repelling you. It’s like hearing your mother say “You go to your room and wait for your father to come home” only times ten and, you know, with zombies instead of a ticked-off dad. Admit it — this is a basic concept, but a killer one nonetheless. The key to any horror story is isolation. When you’re writing a book or a script, you have to construct a way for your protagonists to be on their own, unable to call 911, unable to walk down the street to get help from their friendly neighborhood flatfoot. In Quarantine, said flatfoot is one of the people creating the isolation. You can’t get help, because the only people who could help you are actively condemning you to a decomposing demise.
A New Scream Queen?
Jennifer Carpenter provides the star power in Quarantine, albeit the early stages of star power (perhaps more like a compressing nebulae than a supernova). Carpenter has a firm foundation in horror with her turn in The Exorcism of Emily Rose (which won her an MTV Movie Award for “Best Frightened Perfirmance”). Her ticket to fame, however, comes from her performances as Dexter’s sister on the TV series Dexter. Carpenter is clearly a bright spot in that series: Hot, but not so hot it stretches believability; tough, but still gets her ass kicked by psychopathic men. She plays the tough-girl part with a real-life accuracy that most movies miss. In Quarantine she plays the role of the bright-smiled reporter trapped in the dark and desolate situation. I’m looking forward to this performance. Is she a new scream queen in the making?
Quarantine was penned by Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle, who also directed. The two teamed up for the reality-video-style Poughkeepsie Tapes, a movie about the discovery of hundreds of serial killer home videos. I haven’t seen the flick, but I was in a theater when its trailer played… and it was the only trailer I’ve ever seen booed on concept alone.
So yeah, another Zombie in the City flick, and yeah, yet another Blair Witch rip-off, but I’m all-in. I predict Jennifer Carpenter will make this movie a screamy-good-time and you’ll be happy you shelled out your moolah. While you’re watching, however, just think about how easy it would be for the cops to bar the theater doors, which they might do if the guy sitting in front of you is slumped in his chair, starting to drool, and looking for a snack just a bit different from the popcorn and Jujubees…
Scott Sigler writes tales of hard-science horror, then gives them away as free audiobooks at www.scottsigler.com. His hardcover debut, Infected, is available in stores now. If
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