Wednesday, 15 August 2012

ReMade in the USA: Quarantine

It’s another case of the geek trying to imitate the popular people in the school and failing miserably.
Heathers 1988
Every film ever made and every film to be made is eligible for a remake. The remake is so entrenched in the movie business philosophy that it is a genre unto itself. This genre encompasses all types of films from romantic comedies (You’ve Got Mail 1998) to westerns (True Grit 2010) to horror (Carrie 2013).

The genre also encompasses different types of remakes. The bona fide remake establishes a respectful distance from the original to adapt the story for a new generation (The Thing from another World 1951: John Carpenter’s The Thing 1982). The foreign bona fide reworks the story for an American audience (Seven Samurai 1954: The Magnificent Seven 1960). The denial protests it is not a remake (Le Samouraï 1967: The Driver 1978). There are the honest mistakes (Psycho 1998) and the carpetbaggers (every horror remake since The Ring 2002).
consumed by imperialism
The ‘carpetbaggers’ is what happened when Generation X1 assumed power. These executives raided the horror films of their youth (the 70-80s back catalogues). They remade them at will with scant intention of elevating the storytelling of some pretty ropey pictures (The Hills Have Eyes 2006 is a notable exception). The business model was to take a brand name and sell it again but with downgraded quality (Halloween 2007, Friday the 13th 2009, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010).

Every year I put on a new label. One year it’s beer. Then the next year we call it ‘light beer’. And then the next year it’s ‘cold’, ‘filtered’ or ‘dry’. You know what? We can’t make enough of that shit.
The Larry Sanders Show2
The most insidious of the carpetbaggers is the foreign clone. This is when the Yankee imperialist remakes a (new) foreign film that hasn’t or has hardly been released in the US. Thus, these movies do not have a chance to resonate in American culture the way La Femme Nikita 1990 did (which resulted in two TV series). They are remade shot for shot with the texture lost in translation. It is a case of badly dubbed porn.

[REC] was released in its native Spain in 2007 and premiered in the US on DVD in 2009. When the clone Quarantine 2008 was released in American theatres most patrons didn’t realise it was a remake. It is also a fraud. Quarantine tells the story of [REC] in American accents but voices alone do not destroy resonance. Quarantine is example of how Americans depict themselves. How accurate that depiction is is for Americans to answer.
Jennifer Carpenter in Quarantine
Quarantine begins exactly as [REC] does. There is the distributor’s card and the film delves straight into narrative. The viewer is presented with a half-shot of lead character Angela Vidal this time portrayed by Jennifer Carpenter. The difference between the two films is that in this version Angela starts off bitching. There are more warning signs: the cameraman, Scott, walks into shot in the very first scene.

Two things are occurring with this action: Scott is played by Steve Harris, an African American. With his primping of Angela’s hair he is immediately positioned in the subservient role. The original cameraman, Pablo, was always Angela’s equal even when they were arguing. The other significance is his appearance itself. The American Dream is self grandeur. This is true of their journalism. It explains the documentarians who appear onscreen.

As they tape outside the firehouse a fleet of engines leave with sirens blaring. Angela pogos at the sight of them like a child who’s been promised a bowl of ice cream. Then she bitches again and pulls a face like a child who’s finished the bowl but wants more. This is an illustration of the infantilization of American culture (in association with its dumbing down). That a grown woman in a professional capacity can behave like a child in a public place is indicative. Alas this kind of behaviour is commonplace.
The setup of the film involves Angela meeting the firemen at the firehouse. The interaction consists of Angela bitching, consistently making lewd comments, the firemen putting each other down and homosexual taunts. The basketball scene in [REC] showed the firemen allowing a girl to play with them; they didn’t foul her and they let her score a basket. In Quarantine Angela is the best player on the court. This film is set in America – the land of racism and the home of political correctness.

The racist iconography continues in the apartment building. This film is set in Los Angeles scene of the Rodney King torture3. One of the Quarantine cops is African American so white girl Angela decides it’s perfectly safe to physically shove him. To reverse the roles this is what happens when African American women encounter white male cops.
Casting can make or break a movie. A great part of the success of [REC] was Manuela Velasco’s performance as Angela. Jennifer Carpenter does not induce sympathy here nor did she in The Exorcism of Emily Rose 2005. While her inclusion in this film may not be the fault of director John Erick Dowdle her performance is. To date Dowdle has directed three horror films (The Poughkeepsie Tapes 2007 and Devil 2010). There is not a single journalist or blogger who has accused him of being a potential horrormeister.
Quarantine is what happens when you take a Spanish pearl and turn it into American pigswill.

Dr Blood suggested this review. Meanwhile over at The Vault he has reviewed every film in this canon. I advise everyone to check out what he wrote. I enjoyed it.
1 Generation X TIME
2 The Larry Sanders Show 218
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Saturday, 11 August 2012


Zombies were just another subgenre in 2002. Horror had surfed the mainstream wave of the Scream trilogy and was looking for the next big gimmick (it would find it in J-horror remakes). Resident Evil 2002 was successful and effective but added nothing to the folklore. Autumn saw the release of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later 2002. It was a game changer. It was the rise of the zombies.

In 2002 Danny Boyle was a former indie darling (Trainspotting 1996) and a Hollywood director (The Beach 2000)1. There was mainstream interest in his next project. Using a ruse similar to that used to promote The Crying Game 1992 he insisted that the casualties in 28 Days Later were not zombies but were ‘infected’. Thus, the doors of the auditorium were opened to a whole new market.
1 Boyle has since become a mainstream commercial and critical darling with an Academy Award (Slumdog Millionaire2 2008) whilst retaining his indie cred (127 Hours 2010).

The difference between Boyle’s Infected and George A. Romero’s zombies is speed. There have been fast zombies before (The Return of the Living Dead 1985) but Boyle’s film focussed solely on that attribute. Its resulting success – a worldwide (all figures adjusted for inflation) $105million3  on a $10m production budget – made a whole industry beyond Hollywood and the movies take note4. 28 Days Later is the second most influential zombie film ever made. Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza took its central conceit and made [REC].

It is one of the best zombie films ever made.
Manuela Velasco: [REC] girl
The Blair Witch Project 1999 utilized Point-of-View storytelling with a faux documentary sensibility. This technique gives the impression of actual events unfolding before camera thereby involving the viewer on a more visceral level than traditional presentation. The film grossed a worldwide $343m5 on a (disputed) production budget of $83k. Its success created its own subgenre – found footage (horror’s current gimmick).

While it is inexpensive to shoot these movies there are narrative limitations. The most glaring is ‘the cameraman who shoots his own death’ (Cloverfield 2008). The few films that succeed in setting up the concept and presenting it as plausible (other than The Blair Witch Project) are Paranormal Activity 2009, Apollo18 2011 and [REC].

It is the best found footage film ever made.
 [REC] opens with its Spanish distributor’s logo – and the viewer is thrust into the narrative. As previously noted in Thrill Fiction the audience is not interested in a film’s credits (UK patrons leave the theatre as soon as the end credits start). If the film is a major production with stars and/or a name director then perhaps there is a vanity excuse for displaying those credits before the narrative. Horror films don’t have stars or name directors. They should all follow the example of [REC]6.

6 Scream 1996 and its precursor Popcorn 1991 have a similar method of opening.
The POV format is set up in the first scene. Lead character Angela is a cub reporter taping a fluff piece for local TV. She and Pablo, her off screen cameraman, are going to shadow a fire crew on their night shift. The chief tells Angela an emergency is like the lottery: some nights they get one other nights they don’t. In the George A Romero social commentary tradition of zombie films Angela hopes they get one. 
[REC] Grrl
But there wouldn’t be a film if there wasn’t a call out. Angela and Pablo accompany firefighters Manu and Alex to a routine rescue of a person trapped inside an apartment.

There is ingenuity in simplicity. The best genre films are bare boned (Alien 1979); when they are complicated the result is ridiculous (Prometheus 2012). Angela is the spearhead of [REC]. She is the presenter of ‘While You’re Asleep’ and so Pablo keeps his camera on her. She serves as proxy for the audience. Through her the viewer meets Alex and Manu in relaxed surroundings where they eat and play basketball. An audience relationship is established with Pablo whom Angela trusts.
Romero recalls that the casting of Duane Jones as Ben in Night of the Living Dead 1968 wasn’t planned7. The casting of Manuela Velasco as Angela in [REC] was planned to perfection. In 2007 Velasco’s day job was television presenter – and it shows. Her performance is so convincing it not only carries the film it transposes the cinema into a television news channel. She ranks alongside Patricia Tallman in Night of the Living Dead 1990 as a final girl.

The running time of 75 minutes seems longer because so much happens to so many distinct characters. One of the money shots in a zombie film is when a character turns up undead. Romero’s (slow) zombies are horror; Boyle’s (fast) Infected are terror. It is terrifying when a character that has been trying to save Angela turns up to eat her. What is horrifying is in the social commentary tradition when one of the characters points at the Chinese family and blames the foreigners.
second only to the Dead trilogy
[REC] was released in its native Spain in 2007. Before its US DVD premiere in 2009 came Quarantine 2008 – a shot-for-shot remake. A straight-to-video8 sequel Quarantine 2 2011 followed. There have been two sequels to the Spanish original. The final film in the series [REC]4: Apocalypse is coming soon. [REC]’s enduring legacy exists outside of its franchise. The Walking Dead TV series premiered in 2010. Brad Pitt optioned World War Z in 20069 but the film wasn’t greenlit until 201010.  [REC] and [REC]2 inspired filmmakers and convinced financiers: zombies are the next big thing.
[REC] Final Girl
Despite the atrocity that is Genesis the [REC] films are the second best zombie trilogy ever made. As in most franchises/trilogies the first one is the best.

Read more Thrill Fiction: [REC]2
2 Slumdog Millionaire Box Office Mojo
3 28 Days Later Box Office Mojo
4 The Walking Dead comics were published in 2003. The novel World War Z was published in 2006
5 The Blair Witch Project Box Office Mojo
7 Duane Jones in NotLD The Wrap
8 Quarantine 2 release details Dread Central
9 Brad Pitt will produce WWZ Variety
10 World War Z green light Den of Geek
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Saturday, 4 August 2012

[●REC]3 Genesis

[REC] 2008 was a delightful surprise when it was released in the UK. It was a cinematic example of the little engine that could. Ie it was a small film – in this case foreign – that arrived with little to no fanfare but delivered to the genre what the fan thirsts for: horror. The pronouncement of a sequel came as no surprise. One can argue that a successful 21st century horror film without a sequel is the result of irresponsible producers1.

1 There is a narrative clause: The Sixth Sense 1999 and The Others 2001 do not have sequels. To its shame The Woman in Black 2012 has a sequel announced.
[REC]2 2010 had the year’s2 best opening weekend for a domestic film in its native Spain3. It continues the plot of the original and except for one narrative hiccup it is a satisfactory compliment to [REC]. However, that hiccup was a signpost denoting the limitation of the narrative. The Godfather Part 2 1974 complimented The Godfather 1972 and completed the story. The Godfather Part 3 1990 was excess. When it was announced there would be not only a third but also a fourth [REC] film4 surprise was tempered with dismay.

2 [REC]2 was released in Spain in 2009. All films on this blog are referenced by their UK and/or US release date – whichever came first. Thrill Fiction primarily serves the Anglo/American audience. Thus if a film is not available in a particular year it is redundant to list it as such. Other websites list the year of production (eg IMDB) or year of world premiere (eg Bonjour Tristesse).
A film series usually concludes at three (the Star Wars trilogies, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight5, George A Romero’s the Dead trilogy). Those that don’t (the good) are usually based on source material ( James Bond, Harry Potter). There is the bad (Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser). There is the ugly (Saw, Underworld, Pumpkinhead). To announce a fourth film before the filming of the third is presumptuous to the point of arrogance. Director Robert Zemekis simultaneously filmed Back to the Future 2 1989 and 3 1990. He got away with it because both films were good. The Wachowskis simultaneously shot The Matrix Reload 2003 and The Matrix Revolutions 2003. Their careers have been in freefall ever since.

The world is fascinated by twins. There is also an industry fascination with director pairings. Media always wants to know who does what6. The Coen brothers directed No Country For Old Men 2007. The Hughes (twin) Brothers directed The Book of Eli 2010. Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro directed The City of Lost Children 1995. Left to his own devices Jeunet directed Alien: Resurrection 1997 and destroyed a franchise.

[REC] and [REC]2 were written and directed by Jamue Balagueró and Paco Plaza. When the two sequels were announced it was gushed that the pairing would split: each director would helm their own unique vision to bring the franchise to a close4. Left to his own devices Plaza directed [REC]3 Genesis.
Despite the subtitle (and previous press release4) [REC]3 is neither prequel nor origin story. The biblical reference is a bludgeon of a plot point. It is a cheat. Such is the tenor of the whole film. Plaza shares screenplay credit with one Luiso Beredejo. The two of them have plotted a story with more holes than President Clinton’s impeachment deposition7.

The [REC] franchise is hitherto famous for its unrelenting fast zombies. [REC]3 has fast and inexplicable slow zombies. Logic be damned; the film can brag of being the first to have both subspecies. It can boast of having an amputation that’s treated like a paper cut. Everyone who has ever watched a Straight-to-DVD or Syfy Original is familiar with the ‘victim’s final testimony’: the neck drops and the eyes close and either the actor is playing dead or has ran out of lines. In a TV series said testimony may be valuable information. In [REC]3 it is neither valuable nor informative. This film is evidence that Jamue Balagueró wrote [REC] and [REC] 2 on his own.
Leticia Dolera [REC]3 and Manuela Velasco [REC]
The Americans created the movie star because they understood at the beginning of the industry that the masses flock to see beauty and charisma. This paradigm has worked so much so that their political establishment uses it to select Presidents. The lead and love interest in [REC]3 lack (beauty and) charisma. This film lacks Manuela Velasco.

There is a moment of innovation in [REC]3. It recalls the device used in Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg 1961 to transcend from subtitles to spoken English.  [REC]3 begins as found footage in continuation of the previous films. Plaza uses a deft transition to turn the film into the traditional single camera setup.

When an artist has too much latitude his name is M. Night Shyamalan. [REC]3 is the excess of bloated success. Paco Plaza has thrown away the rules of common sense storytelling and revealed himself to be a fanboy. Jerry Bruckheimer separated from Don Simpson before the latter’s death. Jamue Balagueró has one shot to return the [REC] franchise to the horror it once was. He can use [REC]4 Apocalypse to permanently separate himself and become Beyoncé to Plaza’s Kelly Rowland.

Horror needs a new Maestro.
[REC]3 was released on 3rd August in the US via Video-On-Demand. It opens in theatres on 3rd September. It is released 24th Aug in UK cinemas and on DVD/Blu-Ray 3rd September.
Read more Thrill Fiction: La Casa Muda
3 [REC]2 tops Spanish box office THR
5 The Dark Knight Rises review
6 co-directors The Huffington Post
7 President Clinton Youtube
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