I recently watched two zombie/zombie-esque movies back to back and figured I’d discuss my reasons why I felt the film Quarantine came away the winner in a head-to-head match up.
First off, I much admire George Romero. Night of the Living Dead stands as one of my favorite horror movies of all time. The feel of the movie is brilliant–the creepy, claustrophobic horror of being trapped in a house, surrounded by increasing numbers of stupid but dismayingly resilient zombies as society breaks down outside. Also, the hero is a kick ass African-American, which was way ahead of its time. Dark. Complex. Serious themes and subtexts course through that movie, as well as Dawn of the Dead, which I also love. Those films are classics, and rightfully so. Romero deserves all the props in the world.
However, in Diary of the Dead I suspect the frame used across the span of the movie actually interferes with Romero’s (usually) more subtle social commentary. The frame, where Debra uses narration about the events occurring around the documentary, simply takes the themes of voyeurism and the power and almost hypnotic influence of the camera and makes it annoyingly over-the-top. We have Debra explicitly explaining all of this to us throughout the film, killing all subtlety. Narration is seldom as powerful as watching the direct action/dialogue, and in Diary of the Dead it feels as if one is constantly hammered with these themes/ideas (interesting though they are, overkill is still overkill) until the viewer simply wants to mute Debra’s commentary. Cutting the narration would’ve made for a stronger film.
The effect of the internet on the reaction to the crisis is interesting. As things grow more chaotic, people turn to user uploaded videos and blogs for information on the true nature of the crisis, effectively side-stepping the mainstream media and government as their primary information sources. However, I’m not certain how long ISPs would function or even power would be available given the apocalyptic scope of the crisis. After all, someone has to get up and go to work at the power station every morning, and if the zombie apocalypse is going down, I’d probably call in sick that day.
An aside: the Amish guy was by far my favorite character. I would’ve prefered to follow him around for awhile. Great moral dilemma for pacifists–do reanimated corpses count? Would he kill a person who was infected and dying, but not yet succumbed, or always wait until they died and rose again to put them down? Though, I didn’t quite buy the Amish guy chucking pipe bombs (where would he get fuse, etc?) but some Amish do have rifles to hunt. Also, I’m not quite sure that rickety barn was up to spec. I’ve seen Amish barns. They are very well-built and they take a great deal of pride in them.
The last thing I want to bitch about is the events at the end of the film.
POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT:
One of their friends (who is, quite frankly, an absolute tool unable to understand the basic concept that all zombies must die) hides the fact that he is bitten–a common trope–and dies, comes back as a zombie and chases a girl around in the forest, mirroring one of the first scenes of the film where the crew’s shooting a horror film. The scene is played largely for humor. I realize one of our themes throughout has been how the camera person remains behind the lens, passively filming events but not helping his fellow humans and the moral/social implications of this, but here, in this scene, it just comes off as stupid. Contrast this with an earlier scene where the cameraman is recharging his batteries in a hospital full of zombies where the scene comes off perfectly–tense, and conveying the subtext without bludgeoning the viewer with it.
The cameraman doesn’t help the girl being chased by the zombie, which leads to several stupid events. She knocks out the zombie instead of KILLING it (zombie survival 101–destroy zombies with extreme prejudice) and then takes off in the RV, effectively stranding all the rest of the survivors. Thanks, kid. Of course, our zombie gets back up and causes havoc because HE WASN’T KILLED. Couldn’t have seen that one coming.
Okay, griping over. The movie is worth watching. There are some worthwhile scenes: the hospital, the Amish guy (sans pipe bomb, that is), rednecks playing a form of zombie pinata with guns, killing a zombie with acid to the head–a zombie kill I don’t believe I’d ever seen before.
Watch Diary of the Dead for these scenes, mute the commentary, ignore troubling little nits such as how the zombies in Debra’s house are curiously silent, even while eating, until they’re called upon in the script to pop out and surprise the audience. I mean, if you don’t notice a zombie behind the couch eating your dad when you first walk through the door–hell, the smell would be bad enough–then you have some serious problems with Attention to Detail.
Let’s move on to Quarantine. I enjoyed this one quite a bit. This is a remake of a Spanish film which is on my list to check out. Apparently it is superior to the Hollywood movie, which is too often the case.
One of my favorite aspects of the movie was the feel of the film–shot entirely from one camera POV–no film score and frequently without framing shots. The other actors/characters are often not acting directly to the camera and this all contributed to a feeling of the viewer thrown right into the middle of all the chaos. At one point, the camera is used to kill a zombie, smashing its head over and over again (yes, we all know would break the lens of any normal camera in Reality Land) which yields a strange, rather disturbing effect, as if the viewer were actively taking a part in the killing. This is a long stride further along the path of the first Friday the 13th film, where the 1st person POV kills caused something of a controversy about the violence, almost making the viewer complacent/participant in the murders. The camera POV had the feel of either being there, i.e. the camera as a character, or playing a 1st person video game in survival horror mode.
Granted, in a zombie survival horror situation, the first thing I’d do would be chuck the camera and grab: A) a firearm B) a pick ax C) a baseball bat D) a full set of ginsu knives E) all of the above. So there is some suspension of belief required. The zombies are fast zombies–they run, they make noise, they are sometimes very strong, tossing people around/breaking handcuffs, other times a man can wrestle them down and break their necks–a logic flaw that distracted me more than once.
The opening scenes were relatively effective, if a bit too long, in introducing the characters and establishing a bit of camaraderie between the news crew and the firefighters. Things take off when the firefighters respond to a call and the movie never looks back.
What I liked best was the trapped feel once the CDC/military showed up and quarantined the house. This was all shot through the one camera POV, so it felt very ominous. The characters/viewers are only shown glimpses of the outside world, and at one point a sniper opens up on them when they’re trying to get out. Chaos spreads, things get dicey, people start to die. That’s the element of zombie movies I find most exciting and/or compelling. Diary of the Dead had it, but the documentary framework seemed to interfere rather than enhance it, while in Quarantine this seemed to raise the claustrophobic effect, to make me feel “right there” experiencing things with the characters.
The imbeciles who made the trailer for the film gave away the ending by showing me a very effective shot/image which I kept waiting to see as the movie progressed. As time marched toward the end of the film it wasn’t hard to figure out just where that shot had to go, and thus, what had to happen. Good job, Movie Trailer Guys. You took something cool the poor screenwriter built toward for an entire movie and shoved it in our face during the preview. You must also eat pie for your main course, before the appetizers, right?
Also, we had some issues of gun control–as in, there is a second 9mm on the wounded cop and no one is using it, you stupid morons. The firefighter has a good time with his sledgehammer, but using the other pistol from the wounded cop would’ve seemed to take priority in my mind. Maybe I’m just weird.
Quarantine didn’t seem to stretch hard to say Important Things About Society, (other than Don’t Get Rabies) and which is why, in the end, it seemed to work better for me than Diary of the Dead.
All right, trailers for both movies:
Diary of the Dead
Quarantine (This trailer contains SPOILERS so be warned)