The more recent emergence of "cameraman-as-character" is a cinematic development celebrated by some and hated by others.
When "Cloverfield" came out in January many people complained about how the shaky cinematography made them nauseous. I saw the technique as being useful in creating greater intimacy between the characters and the audience.
So far this style has primarily been used in horror and thriller movies. I suspect that's mainly because the genres lend themselves to it. When the theme is survival you can take a group of characters in a tough situation and just give them a camera. That makes sense. How could this format justify itself for a drama or a comedy? What would be the point?
"Quarantine" does not fail as a result of its format but rather the incompetence of its filmmakers. It has all the makings of a good horror-thriller but ultimately falls into mediocrity because its creators were unable to manage a few critical factors.
"Quarantine" blends the hyper-aggressive zombie themes of "28 Days Later" with the documentary approach of "The Blair Witch." It begins with a TV crew filming the happenings of a fire department's night shift. The reporter is Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman is Scott (Steve Percival.) They're both strong, likable protagonists. The first twenty minutes or so features them at the fire station, meeting the guys and joking around. She's assigned to shadow Jake (Jay Hernandez of the "Hostel" series) and Fletcher (Jonathan Schaech.)
Jake is the likable, honorable man and Fletcher is the misogynistic lech who wants to bed Jennifer by the end of the night. It becomes apparent very quickly what roles they're going to play once the horror movie starts when a 911 call sends Jake, Fletcher, Scott, and Angela to an apartment building.
An old woman apparently was screaming and when the emergency crew finds her it becomes clear that she's demonstrating the symptoms of a strange disease. When the crew members go to get more assistance they discover that the apartment has been sealed shut. Government forces seem to be aware of the disease and have decided to quarantine the virus. That leaves the few emergency workers, the apartment's manager and residents, and the film crew to try and survive as the disease spreads and drives the infected into insanity.
The film has plenty of genuine scares, it also successfully creates moods of anxiety and suspense. In many respects it succeeds in its goals as both horror and thriller film. Its use of sequences of extreme violence, gore, and the prop of the zombie are effective. There are also moments of psychological fear as the camera wanders through spooky, decrepit apartments.
Yet these triumphs are diminished by a few critical cinematic errors. The first and most substantial is that the filmmakers don't seem to understand that you can only hold your audience in suspense for so long until they start to get numb and bored. The film's climax and conclusion is too long. Eventually near the end as the numbers began to dwindle I just stopped caring.
This shift in emotional attachment to the characters was furthered by the realization that no one was going to survive. That is clear in the film's advertising, which says right on the poster 'there's the possibility of no survivors.' There came a point, though, in which the situation just became so utterly hopeless that escape seemed entirely impossible.
The film's far from a complete failure, though. It has plenty of scares and on the whole is entertaining to watch. Horror-thriller fans should moderately enjoy it while everyone else can probably find something better to watch.