"Quarantine" begins with television reporter Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) tagging along with a crew of Los Angeles firemen on a 911 call about a mentally disturbed old woman. They arrive at a creepy apartment complex, camera rolling, only to discover that, instead of making a human-interest feature for the 6 o'clock news, they've been drafted as filmmakers for a latter-day "Blair Witch Project." By the time they realize this, of course, the Centers for Disease Control has locked everyone inside the building and zombies have begun snacking on the trapped humans.
Like "Blair Witch," "Quarantine" uses the conceit of a movie-within-a-movie to give documentary immediacy to its assorted grotesqueries. This works for the first half of the film, when Scott manages to keep the camera relatively level. When the zombies perk up in the second half, Scott and the filmmakers seem less interested in holding a steady shot than in conveying that "you are about to die" feeling so prized in the horror genre. What the jerky camerawork conveyed to me was "you are about to throw up," which I quite nearly did. A ticket to "Quarantine" ought to come with a maximum-strength dose of Dramamine.
I have seen many execrable films - "Plan 9 From Outer Space," "Disaster Movie," "Batman & Robin" - but never has a movie made me so physically ill; even now, an hour after leaving the theater, I can still taste bile in the back of my throat. In its presentation, "Quarantine" is more akin to a first-person-shooter like "Halo" than anything conventionally understood by the word "cinema" (although at least you can pause a video game).
Yet I suspect director John Erick Dowdle would be pleased at my reaction, since the apparent ambition of contemporary horror films is to inflict the greatest possible suffering upon their audience. By this standard, "Quarantine" easily earns its place in the pantheon.