(I'm thinking of creating a recurring feature here, wherein I look at two films: one the original version and one the remake. Lemme think on it)
So welcome to the first edition of "Watch This, Not This". Today we're going to look at [rec] versus Quarantine. [rec] was originally released in 2007 in Spain, while Quarantine came out in North America in 2008. Both follow a plucky young reporter named Angela (played by Manuela Velasco and Jennifer Carpenter, respectively) as she trails a pair of firefighters on what she expects to be a typical news story while swiftly turns into, basically, a zombie infestation in a sealed off apartment building. It's shot entirely from the POV of her cameraman which lends a distinctive, immediate, youtube-y feel to the movie. Very cool!
First thing I want to express is that while this is called "Watch This, Not This", I actually do recommend watching Quarantine. It is a rare, Americanized remake of an already excellent foreign film which is genuinely decent and scary. [rec] is likely difficult to find, so in lieu of that, grab a copy of Quarantine and be entertained and freaked out.
That said, if you can find it, [rec] is definitely the superior product. The camerawork tends to be a bit less jerky, the overall look is a hair grittier and more realistic, and the scares jump out at you a smidge more effectively. The problem I found with Quarantine is that despite the fact that it's shot from a reporters video camera, it still has too much Hollywood gloss to it. Or maybe it's the perils of watching it on Blu-Ray, with it's sharp edges and vivid colours. But [rec] comes across as being more low-fi and genuine, and that adds heaps to the atmosphere and realism (realism being a term loosely used to describe a zombie movie, of course).
Both movies suffer from having a lot of secondary characters who never really amount to much except to be appetizers on feet. I'm fine with that but a lot of the time you don't know what is happening outside the realm of the cameras lens. There are times when characters aren't on the screen and you vaguely know that zombie shit is happening somewhere, but then the next time you see the character, he or she is zombified themself and you're like "wait, what??". I suppose it makes sense because of how everything is filmed but it gets a bit disorienting sometimes. Just assume that if you haven't seen someone for a while and zombie shit has happened recently, then that person is turned.
The little girl that features prominently in both films is waaaaaaaaaay more effective in the Spanish version. Ooh shit. That's all I say.
The biggest difference I can notice between the two movies is the 10-15 minute final sequence in the attic/penthouse. I first watched Quarantine shortly after it came out and this sequence freaked the everloving poops out of me. Just recently I watched [rec], though, and this same climax is so, so, SO much freakier. I watched it alone in the dark and when...well, the final zombie comes into the picture I was just about ready to shut the whole thing off. It was THAT scary! I just watched Quarantine again tonight and with the final minutes of [rec] still fresh in my mind, it just can't compare. If you never see [rec], you will still enjoy the end of Quarantine. If you do watch [rec] you will undoubtedly agree with me.
Firstly is the explanation, vague as it is, of the source of all the troubles. Without spoiling anything [rec] is far more explicit about laying out the cause. You might not be 100% certain what the reason is but you will still be about 80-85% sure, and what you are guessing is likely correct. Quarantine takes a very different tack in both reasoning and presentation. All I will say is that the cause in [rec] and the cause in Quarantine are very, very different. And in Quarantine the viewer has to make inferences based on quick views of things within the penthouse and add them up to what they think created the zombies. Maybe it's better to leave it up to the imagination, but trying to read headlines of articles tacked to a wall as a camera goes speeding by is not my idea of 'resolution'. In comparison, it kinda cheeses me that Quarantine took such a vague route.
The camerawork in this sequence is far superior in [rec]. I know it's supposed to be just a guy holding onto his videocamera but in Quarantine it's like he loses all motor skills and we're left to whirl about the room along with him. *zip- there's a zombie! *zip there's a hospital bed! *zip- there's Angela! *zip- OH SHIT, ZOMBIE!* In [rec] he's still jittery and prone to not focusing on one thing but it's a lot smoother and easy to follow. The viewer is able to take in a lot more of the tension and atmosphere of the situation and, worse, really get to appreciate that last creature.
Oh and what a doozy she is. Maybe I'm just a sucker for night vision, but seeing anyone/thing with that creepy pale glow in the eyes is usually enough to make me curl into the fetal position (I'm looking at you Silence of the Lambs). In [rec] I'm fairly sure she HAS to be cgi, whereas in Quarantine they may have been able to use a human actor. All I know is that if [rec]-bitch ever hobbled into my line of sight I would flat out die on the spot. She's scarier in [rec], too, because you get a semi-explanation as to who she is, while in Quarantine she's just some random nasty. Knowing what you do about her makes her that much freakier. UUUUUUUGH I get the willies just thinking about it.
I sincerely hope they do an Americanized version of the sequel. I just think that based on the changes they made to the end sequence they would have to completely re-imagine the storyline of the second. The characters and their motives cannot exist in the Americanized sequel, which is too bad. (*note- I just finished watching [rec] 2, and boy howdy is it a doozy. It's not a stretch to say that it's a sequel which actually improves upon the first.)
When it boils down to it, [rec] is 100% on my list of best zombie movies ever. It doesn't rely on a lot of cheesy, over the top, or overtly grotesque special effects to sell it's zombies. Nor does is it equate 'zombie' with any sort of heavy handed metaphorical allegory. These are nasty, bitey, murderous beings that are gonna come fuck you up and that's that. By using the POV of the cameraman to put us directly in the 'combat zone', it provides a refreshingly unique approach to horror movies (remember, this was before Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity!). Quarantine is, though not equal to, nevertheless a fantastic movie in it's own right. It's still a remake which loses a little bit of the excellence of it's predecessor.
My vote: Watch This- [rec] A-
... AND This- Quarantine B