The Signs of A Horror Film: An In Depth Look at Quarantine

Quarantine
Quarantine

Horror Is Like Porn

Horror movies are like pornography, you know it when you see it. Or do you? Movies like Audition (1999, Miike) and Carrie (DePalma, 1976) have made an effort to redefine the genre in ways that put a spin of eliciting the audience’s fear.

It’s easy to pick apart films like these because they stray from the classic horror film delivery. But, what about a classic horror film? The truth is a good horror film can delve deep into the audience’s psyche, even if you think you know what’s going to happen

Zombies are Funny Too

The film Quarantine (2008, Dowdle) is a remake of a Spanish film named *REC (2007, Balagueró and Plazais) and for the most part sticks to the original’s screenplay and shot sequences. That’s a very good thing, since the original has the right mixture of gore and intrigue. In short, the movie is about an apartment complex quarantined because of ‘rabies’, which turns both humans and animals alike into blood thirsty zombies.

I will take a moment and say that the presence of zombies in and of itself does not qualify Quarantine as a horror movie. Don’t get me wrong, George Romero helped to get zombies on the ‘horror map’, movies like Shaun of the Dead (2004, Wright) and Zombieland (2009, Fleischer) have proven that zombies can be funny as hell. Are those movies horror? They are horror-like and at times can scare you, but their intent is to make you laugh and for both of these movies I laughed until my sides hurt.

It's not like it is obvious this movie is a horror film. It is, which is why it is perfect to dissect it a bit and see why we react the way we do towards the film and many others like it.

Quarantine Trailer

Film Theory and Criticism
Film Theory and Criticism

[i] Schatz, Thomas. "From Hollywood Genres." Film Theory & Critism. (2009): 564. The quote I used is from this book, which is a must read for anyone interested in film theory and genre.

 

What? Zombies Not Enough??

So, although zombies are a good sign that you’re watching a horror movie, there are other tropes to look out for. In this case, the tropes that horror uses (such as a killer, a terrible place, victims et al) is what separate this genre from others.

Thomas Schatz suggests that “the determining, identifying feature of a film genre is its cultural context, its community of interrelated character types whose attitudes, values and actions flesh out dramatic conflicts inherent within that community.”[i]

By defining the cultural context as well as the characters types within the horror genre, it is clear that Quarantine is a horror film, but with a twist to tantalize the ‘hardened’ horror audience which understands the rules of horror and plays upon those for a scare.

Context Is Key

The audience is introduced to the main characters and the setting by way of documentary form, similar to The Blair Witch Project (1999, Myrick, Sanchez). By filming in this manner, it not only allows for a diminished quality of filming (static and the occasional black out), it forces a perspective (putting the audience in the same situation of the victim) and it calls attention to the place of media within the film. All of which are important to define the space in which this film takes place. It is your cultural context. Remember that the next time you watch, Carrie or Audition. They have effect not only because of the screenplay or the directing, but because of where they take place and who their audience is.

Misogyny, Misandry, and Misanthropy (Representations Books)
Misogyny, Misandry, and Misanthropy (Representations Books)

[i] Clover, Carol J. "Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film." Misogyny, Misandry and Misanthropy. 20. (1987): 197. Please note that this is not the edition of the book I have. I have a more current one, but the information should be the same, though the pages will probably be off.

 

Genre can be distinguished by the use of space within the community. In this case, a group of people isolated from society in an apartment building or in a house, Night of the Living Dead (1968, Romero), or in a motel, Psycho (1960, Hitchcock). The setting itself isn’t as important as its isolating effect and it’s placement in relation to the outside world (the community). It becomes a terrible place, according to Carol J. Clover, “in which the victims sooner or later find themselves is a venerable element of horror.[i]

For many horror films, the outside world is just as threatening as or even more so than the dangers faced within the isolated space. It is often horror’s opposition to the community that differentiates it from other genres. It has been suggested that Night of the Living Dead is a social commentary on the civil rights movement and the hero, Ben, is a representation of the black man confronting the inequalities of white America. Quarantine has a similar set up, placing a group of minorities (a black cop, non-English speakers, women and a child) fighting against themselves and the outside world.

Jennifer Carpenter in Quarantine
Jennifer Carpenter in Quarantine

Character Types Mean Something

The use of character type is also important in determining genre. Authority figures within the horror genre are often ineffectual (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven 1984) or just other victims to be killed (Night of the Living Dead). In the case of Quarantine, they are both.

This is why many hard core horror fans seem to know what’s going to happen next. They can’t define it, but they just know. It’s the long standing tropes that help define the genre and if you look at a horror film, no matter how far off the normative track they are, like Audition or Carrie, they eventually conform the every widening horror tropes.

This is where we get to the standards that most people can point out. Clover also suggests that within the horror subgenre Slasher Film (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974 Hooper), is what as known as the ‘Final Girl’: A girl who survives at the end of the film, but who also is ‘abject horror personified’, according to Clover. Though Quarantine is not a Slasher Film, it uses the trope, leaving its main character, Angela, as the sole non-rabies infected person at the end. Horror is interesting in that it’s OK to mix and match subgenres from the Slasher Film to Monster.

Going further, the film plays with the ‘Final Girl’ trope and the anxieties of the audience when she is dragged away off screen. This toying with the plot structure is just another way in which a genre film can evolve, still allowing for repetition and the reorganization of tropes already known to the viewer.

Quarantine is a horror film, not because it has zombie-like characters or because a lot of people die in it. It is a horror film because it preys upon the audience’s knowledge of known tropes and placement within society to cause anxiety within the viewer. It’s trying to scare us and we know this, are prepared for this, yet we are still scared.

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12 comments

SPomposello profile image

SPomposello 4 years ago from NY

The original [REC] is fantastic. While this remake didn't really step on any toes, I kinda felt it was unnecessary, it didn't really add too much. It's pretty much the original story but told in English and in an American setting. My only disappointment was their take on the final scene in the attic. The Medeiros girl was far more frightening and that scene overall was done 100x better in the original. The zombie guy/scientist in the attic wasn't all that scary.

Now that we're on the subject though, "Quarantine 2: Terminal" is actually not a bad sequel. Instead of copying [REC] 2, it delivers an original story-line, which is a plus in my book.


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

I agree that this movie was about as unnecessary as The Grudge or The Ring were, though all these movies were good in their own way. It has more to do with taking a foreign horror film and making more accessible to the American audience and since many fans (especially in the desired teen/20s male area) don't care for subtitles, they just opt to remake the movie and don't mess with what works too much. It's good that it gets films people would otherwise never see to the masses, but for those of us who follow good films no matter what language their in, it's rather pointless.

I just thought this was a good film to highlight some tropes and concepts for a horror movie and that's probably because I just finished watching it again, lol.

Thanks a bunch.


zzron profile image

zzron 4 years ago from Houston, TX.

I have to say this was a very interesting hub. Although these types of movies are not my cup of tea. I'm 50 years old and I remember as a kid going to the theater to see Frankenstein and Dracula and the Wolfman back in the late 60s and early 70s and thought those were scary.

LOL. I have never really been a fan of scary movies and really can't see why anyone else would be either other than getting the adrenaline rush. I am more into comedy, action and adventure and science fiction.


MissDoolittle profile image

MissDoolittle 4 years ago from Sussex, UK

I have watched Quarantine and personally I didn't like it - but I'm not a lover of horror.

Enjoyed reading this though


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

It looks like zzron and MissDoolittle have the same dislike for horror. That's OK, because I know horror films are a love them or hate them sort of genre.

zzron, that's really cool that you saw those movies in a theater, since the first time I watched them was on my little 13" black and white TV when I was a kid. I watch horror films, because they present human nature in its most stripped form. It's intriguing to dissect the way a director pieces a film together as well as how an actor chooses to portray a moment of crisis.

MissDoolittle, did you ever watch [REC], the original Spanish version? For many, nothing ever beats the original. What was it that you disliked? Most people that I've discussed the movie has said the camera movement is what made them dislike that movie as well as The Blair Witch Project.

Thank you both!


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia

Hello Vanessa, I'm intrigued. I think I'll rent the movie this weekend. I'm not a horror or a Zombie movie fan, but I will watch one occasionally. Quarantine, as you've written about, has me curious. Good article.


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

Hi Cyndi, this is an interesting movie and if you don't mind subtitles or you are fluent in Spanish, the original it is based off of [REC] is equally as good. It's an enjoyable watch. Thank you!


the girls profile image

the girls 4 years ago from Los Angeles, California

My teenage kids like the zombies and horror movies. Though I don't fit in with them at this aspect, they are all excited if a new film or TV series are being released. And they will post comments/personal review on their social networks. The power of social media!


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

Indeed. I found that horror films have more importance on society than most give them credit. They are an interesting indicator for cultural constructs, generational differences and gender relationships. Not bad for a bunch of zombie and scream flicks.

Thanks the girls!


Loren 23 months ago

Deep thinking - adds a new disiemnon to it all.


Daysia 23 months ago

Well done artlice that. I'll make sure to use it wisely.


Johnf601 13 months ago

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