October Horrorshow: Quarantine 2: Terminal & [•REC] 2

Anyone who has a fear of flying knows that it is not just the flight itself that causes anxiety. It’s not something that creeps up on a person in the line for security at the airport, or even back at home packing bags. It can begin weeks or even months before a person is supposed to step on a plane. It can begin at the mere thought that it might be time to plan a vacation, or with the realization that it’s been awhile since the last visit to the west coast office, and it’s only a matter of time before the boss shoves some airline tickets and an itinerary into a folder and puts it right on top of the inbox. Just the thought of flying can add an extra layer of tension to a person who hasn’t been on a plane in years, and has no intention of doing so.

After booking a flight, strange omens can be seen almost everywhere. Patterns emerge. One night there’s a dream of a plane crash, followed by an entire week of seeing plane crashes in movies, television shows, and on the news. It’s surprising just how often we see a plane crash, whether in fiction or in reality, if one really pays attention. Of course, reason battles constantly with such irrational, emotional considerations, and those of us who aren’t truly crippled with a phobia suck it up and fly when we have to, sometimes aided by some chemical bravery. After all, flying is the safest way to travel. What’s there to worry about?

Did you know that airline pilots and flight engineers have a job mortality rate that trails only that of commercial fishermen?

Anyways, Quarantine 2: Terminal, is the sequel to the 2008 film, Quarantine, which was a remake of the 2007 Spanish film [•REC]. Using the term sequel is stretching things a bit, though. There is little continuity between the first film and the second. The main drivers of the plot are shared — a rabies-like virus turns exposed humans into raving, murderous lunatics in seconds — but there is only the flimsiest of connecting tissues between the two films. The first took place in an apartment building in Los Angeles, and was shot in found footage, the faux documentary filmmaking style I love so much. Quarantine 2 abandons such trickery, instead opting for more traditional methods of storytelling and photography.

However, the look of the film isn’t completely traditional. Shot in grainy, low-res digital, like its predecessor, director John Pogue and cinematographer Matthew Irving set up the shots in such a way as to make the audience feel like a fly on the wall, an invisible observer lurking in the room without the players’ knowledge, or even someone at the other end of a security camera. So the film didn’t completely ditch the idea of presenting the events onscreen as real, but it went for a more subtle approach, through suggestion rather than explicitness. I suspect the look of the film, and the equipment the filmmakers used, had a lot to do with the miniscule budget, and I think their solution was well handled.

But there is also a story in this film, one that I hinted at earlier. A plane is leaving LAX on the same night as the events that took place in the apartment building in the first film. We meet the two central protagonists, a pair of flight attendants named Jenny and Paula (Mercedes Masöhn and Bre Blair, respectively), on their way to the airport. They’re young and bubbly, and the audience is left to wonder which one of these will be the heroine of the film. The rest of the ensemble cast gathers aboard the plane and we meet Henry (Josh Cooke), a passenger carrying a cage full of hamsters into the cabin. One of them nicks another passenger, and now the plot is up and running. Audiences familiar with the first film will remember that the infection plaguing the apartment building initially spread from animal to person, and there’s no difference here. After the bit passenger turns into Cujo, the plane is forced to make an emergency landing shortly into its flight, and the action moves to the terminal of the title.

Inexplicably, the government is aware before the plane has even touched down what is happening onboard, even if passengers and crew are still in the dark, and the terminal the plane taxis to is deserted. Shortly the terminal is surrounded by emergency rescue vehicles and is quarantined in plastic, just like in the first film. The government is damned efficient in the movies, I must say. (One quick note. We never see the passenger area of the terminal, only the bowels underneath, where baggage is processed. Maybe the filmmakers couldn’t get permission to film upstairs, or maybe what we’re seeing is the sorting machinery for a shipping facility after the second shift has knocked off for the evening. Who knows? I can suspend disbelief to the point that I believe it’s the unseen portion of an airport.)

The move from plane to terminal was an essential one, I think. There’s only so much suspense that can be maintained aboard a plane like the tiny commuter jet where the initial action took place. There’s only so many places to hide from the new wave zombies that would have quickly overwhelmed everyone aboard, so we are treated to one of the more harrowing rapid descents and emergency landings that have been put to film (or hard drive, in this case), as the first poor infected cast member tries to make mincemeat out of the other passengers, exasperated flight crew watching the events unfold through a peephole in the reinforced cockpit hatch.

The terminal is the last location in the film, as the cast is either killed off or turned into new wave zombies/not zombies at a relatively quick pace. (Another quick note. When I write zombies/not zombies, I’m referring to Danny Boyle and his crew bristling at suggestions that their creatures in the 28 Later franchise are zombies, when they have made clear the zombies are not zombies — they are infected. Not undead, but living and transformed.) The ending of Quarantine 2 pays homage to Quarantine’s creepy night vision finale, but it feels tacked on and unnecessary. After all is said and done, we learn which of the flight attendants stepped up into her role as leader, who was zombie/not zombie food, who among the cast joined her unfortunate fate, and who survived. Most important, we find out the city in which the plane made its emergency landing, setting up what would be a hilarious sequel were it to be made.

Not to get ahead of events, though. Quarantine 2 was a mostly throwaway film. For the budget, it was a more than respectable effort, but it had to deal with some holes in casting and plot that only drew attention to its cheapness. Its dubious connection to the previous film has all the hallmarks of having been a reworked screenplay meant to cash in on an established brand, so any audience member expecting to see a continuation of the original story, which had its own ambiguous ending, will be disappointed. That, and the fact it’s pretty tepid for a horror film. There’s just not that much there, there.

But no mind. If it’s a proper sequel that a viewer wants, it can be had with [•REC] 2, the 2009 sequel to Quarantine’s Spanish progenitor. Unlike Quarantine 2, which abandoned both location and storytelling method to strike out in a new direction, REC 2 picks up within minutes of when the previous film’s action left off. At the end of the previous film, we learned that the rabies-like virus that had been infecting the residents of a Barcelona apartment was in fact demonic possession (I warned readers of the review of REC last year that I would be leaking a major spoiler for the ending of that film in this review. If you had not read the previous review, well then, tough.)

A Barcelona SWAT team has been tasked with escorting a shady scientist into the quarantined apartment building while the final moments of the first film are playing themselves out. They remain unseen, however, as this new crew’s mission takes precedence. This film returns to using found footage, like its predecessor, and the audience is treated to the strange idea that a squad of hard-bitten commandos would carry a shoulder-mounted video camera into a potentially dangerous environment, with a very conspicuous spotlight mounted on top. Honestly, I’ve never met a cop that enjoyed being taped, but in this film, the cameraman’s colleagues urge him on constantly in his duties. Everything must be recorded, they constantly remind him, and this unseen cop takes his duty seriously, continuing to roll camera even as his mates come under attack.

In addition, each of the members of the SWAT team have cameras mounted on their helmets that they can patch into the main feed of the big camera. When they get separated from the main force, we get to see what happens to solitary unfortunates who stray from the protection of the group. It’s not pretty.

Not long into the film, we learn that the scientist tagging along with the tactical group is in reality a Roman Catholic priest, and once again the audience is thrust back into the supernatural underpinnings of the first film. Underpinnings that were so ridiculous even the mediocre American remake did away with them (to its credit).

One would think that a film that embraces demonology as an explanation for zombie/not zombie behavior would make more sense than a biological explanation in a country like the United States, what with its embrace of religion, but there’s the rub. This is a film that firmly embraces the role of the Catholic priest as a representative of the one true church that has the authority to deal with demons. That makes the authority the collared man commands in this film ridiculous to viewers in this country. He would have no real authority here, by law or by inclination, which makes the priest’s involvement and zealotry in his cause of defeating the demon a strictly Spanish affair. Never mind. Even though American audiences would be more willing to believe a more scientific origin for the zombies/not zombies (see: Night of the Living Dead), that doesn’t make these poor possessed souls any less frightful.

Like the first film, the infected are right bastards, frothing at the mouth, red of eye, and very, very violent. Some very effective scares unfold throughout, but the film almost derails when a group of teenagers is introduced that makes little sense to the progression of the story, but things get back on track quickly. The pace of REC 2 is akin to that established in the first film, culminating in another night vision ending in the dreaded penthouse. Derivative? Sure, but still, this film could end nowhere else.

What we have here, then, is a film as intense in its frantic nature as REC, and just as enjoyable, despite its overreliance on found footage, but they did well to shake things up by introducing more than one camera to tell the story. It was a good decision.

In the battle of the sequels, REC 2 takes the prize over Quarantine 2. Mostly because the same care was put into REC 2 that was put into REC, and the frenzied state of the first was maintained. It was a genuine new wave zombie horror flick, despite the debt of gratitude it owed to Danny Boyle. As for Quarantine 2, it was prone to momentum killing dead spaces that had me constantly thinking of ways it could have been better. That being said, the airplane sequence was tense and well done, and I’m not just saying that because of my little diatribe about the fear of flying at the top of the review. That was a fine first act. After that, however, there was little that was special or compelling.