guppy's film reviews

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Back from hiatus! Also reviewed this week: Religulous.

Director: John Erick Dowdle
Notable Actors: Jennifer Carpenter
Score: B+
Summary: Fun "Boo!" horror flick that's worth seeing once.

Quarantine is the latest film to tackle the first-person perspective used by and The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. It follows a two-person news team documenting an LA apartment building whose residents are suddenly sealed into their building by the authorities. Unlike, say, Blair Witch, it's a pure adrenaline piece focused primarily on sudden scares than on psychological or atmospheric ones.

Angela Vidal (Carpenter) is a local news reporter assigned to do an interest piece on the local fire department. She and her cameraman, Scott (Steve Harris), tag along when the department responds to a call, and wind up at a nearby apartment building for an emergency of an unknown type. One of the people investigating the incident is abruptly attacked, and the entire group ends up sealed inside the building without any warning or explanation.

There's nothing unexpected about Quarantine. You can predict most of the film before walking into the theater, if you know the premise. But it's a well-shot and effective and will make you jump, which is what you should want if you're going to see it. There isn't much else to the story; it will live or die for a given viewer based on whether they were looking for that experience.

I would suggest strongly that you see the film in theaters if you're going to. Like Cloverfield, Quarantine is best experienced communally, at night, and on a large screen at loud volume. Watching it by yourself in the middle of the afternoon on a 15" CRT will rob it of a lot of its effect. For this reason I don't think the DVD will be a big success. But if you have the opportunity for a nighttime theater viewing, it's a worthwhile experience.


Back from hiatus! Also reviewed this week: Quarantine.

Director: Bill Maher
Notable Actors: Bill Maher
Score: C
Summary: Mildly entertaining yet sneering and pointless quasi-documentary that will put off even people who agree.

I can't figure out why Religulous was made. I really wanted to like it -- I'm a longtime Bill Maher fan and our opinions tend to coincide. But it's nothing but a big middle finger to theists, and while atheists and agnostics will snicker, it just feels mean-spirited.

Religulous is basically footage of Bill Maher interviewing religiously-inclined strangers about their beliefs and ridiculing them for holding those beliefs. His stance is an agnostic one: he can't find any proof one way or the other, so he reasons that the only sensible position on religion is to be uncertain, and that those who express certainty are irrational because they can't possibly be certain. That position makes a lot of sense to me, because it's pretty much the one I hold. But from there the film veers off course. It simply doesn't have an audience.

If you're religious, it will be pretty hard for you to come away from Religulous without feeling tremendously insulted. Frequently it seems like that was the goal -- to shame religious viewers into reconsidering their beliefs. But I don't know a single person who responds that way to criticism. I think the instinctive reaction of religious viewers will be to turtle up angrily and ignore any salient arguments made.

If you aren't religious, there are some chuckles to be had, and I did enjoy them. Most of them are in the form of Pop-Up Video-like correction captions. But there are only a few really funny scenes, and I spent the rest of the time cringing at how badly I thought Maher's arguments would be received by their intended targets.

Religulous feels like a Maher vanity project. It apparently intends to convince the very people it's insulting, and I think that means making it was ultimately pointless. I can't recommend it.