Quarantine (2008) was a faithful and chilling remake of the Spanish masterpiece, REC. The plot is a terrifying tale of survival in a quarantined building, where a mutated rabies virus turns the infected into cannibals. Both films use the “shaky camera” documentary style in a gripping new way. The American adaptation is a frame-by-frame homage to the original, and Jennifer Carpenter turns in one of the best performances by any American actress in the last few years.
In the sequel, Quarantine 2: Terminal, director John Pogue refrains from simply reshooting the excellent REC2. Pogue changes the setting to a grounded airplane in a sealed off terminal, after the rabies virus runs rampant on a commercial flight.
There’s dramatic potential in this setting, for it plays upon our fears in the Age of Terror. Air travel was once a mundane activity, but it never will be again for the 9-11 generation. The enemy is within. That well-dressed man in the seat next to you may charge into the cockpit with nothing more than a prayer and a box knife and bring the plane down.
It’s curious that in both American, remakes the first infected victim we see is a corpulent, rampaging lunatic. In Quarantine 2 an obese traveller turns rabid and charges straight for the cockpit. The passengers rise up to stop him, a direct nod to 9-11’s United Flight 93.
The scene should scare us, but it doesn’t. In fact, something far worse happens: it’s unintentionally funny. As this raging ogre barrels down the aisle, Jenny the Stewardess (Mercedes Masöhn) steps in front of him, like Bambi versus rabid Berserker. He absolutely flattens our brave little stewardess.
The 400-pound cannibal then bellows and roars as he takes on a half dozen men. The scene is so over-the-top that I expected him to shout “I EAT BABIES!” like Fat Bastard in an Austin Powers film.
In another wild scene, a rabid lab rat jumps out of its cage and lands on a bald man’s head. Again, an attempted jump scare becomes comical. Where’s Samuel Jackson when you need him? “I’M TIRED OF THESE MOTHERFUCKING RATS ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING PLANE!”.
These two scenes alone would destroy any horror film, and Quarantine 2 is no exception.
John Gardner once wrote that “fiction is a dream” and horror is a particular kind of dream—a nightmare with its own strange universe. In order for horror to work, a spell must be cast over the audience as strange events increase in frequency and power. This progression ratchets up tension and fear, creating a trance-like atmosphere of dread. The greatest horror films from Psycho to The Exorcist to The Ring effectively cast such a spell over its audience. The hazard for any writer or filmmaker is that the spell is easily broken, for one misstep disrupts the trance.
Quarantine 2 fails to live up to its early promise. Given the two scenes already mentioned, any suspense that exists at the beginning of the film quickly vanishes. The film stops twitching at the 40-minute mark, yet we still have an hour to go.
To make matters worse, the passengers are merely Hollywood ‘types’: a wife with an ailing husband; a smartass teenager with tons of attitude; a sexy pair of stewardesses. If you think you’ve seen these characters before, you have. They’re straight from central casting. As the story lurches on, most of these characters turn viral and rampant in an endless loop of violence and bloodshed, and we don’t care what happens to them.
Mercedes Masöhn is the one bright spot, here. She has potential star power with an electric screen presence. The camera loves her and she conveys natural warmth. Yet Masöhn has no material here to showcase her strengths.
Pogue’s departure from REC2’s script costs him dearly. He doesn’t have a story to support this shift in direction. It’s fairly easy to change the setting of a film, but it’s much more difficult to write a frightening story that enthralls an audience for 90 minutes.
It’s instructive to go back to the source material in REC2, which scares us in a different way than the original; the Spanish sequel delves into the origins of the virus and its occult history. Since mainstream American viewers haven’t seen that film, Quarantine 2 could have been a scary thriller for a potentially large audience. Instead, we’re stuck on the tarmac for 90 minutes in a plane bound for nowhere.