Monday, February 8, 2016

The Anti-Blockbusters: Carriers

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I stumbled upon this movie a few years back by accident and found it to be a welcome surprise of a film giving a sci fi spin on some of post-apocalyptic themes typically reserved to the zombie-pocalypse genre. Carriers was made back in 2007 but then sat on the shelf for a couple of years before it finally got a limited release in the theaters in 2009. A pre-Star Trek Chris Pine heads up the cast as one of four plague survivors on a trek through the back roads of a ravaged America. Their goal is to try and avoid those affected with the virus that has wiped out most of humanity while heading to a location that they believe will act as a safe spot where they can ride out the holocaust. They do however encounter other survivors along the way and find themselves faced with dubious moral choices, weighing their own survival against helping those in need.

Carriers delivers a very straightforward, linear film that does not rely on twists and turns nor placing the leads in one predicament after the next to build its story and conflicts. Instead, it essays the breakdown of society as it follows these four travelers on their journey to a coastal hotel that the two brothers know from their childhood and that they believe will provide safe ground. Along the way, they must make decisions based primarily on their need to survive in this post-apocalyptic setting and in so doing they must distance themselves from the dictates of a more civilized world. And we see a definite contrast between the older brother Brian (Pine) and the younger brother Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci) as Brian has more quickly dispensed with the mores of polite society in his bid to survive in the world that remains. He makes some very harsh--and at times amoral--decisions that Danny and their two female companions don’t always agree upon, but he is driven by necessity. This ultimately pushes him over the edge, though, putting his brother in the position of dealing with an equally harsh decision. And you can argue about the morality of their actions all you want, but you also have to place yourself in the same circumstance and answer honestly how you would act.

And ultimately, this is what a good science (nay speculative) fiction tale does. It takes us just far enough away from our own world while at the same time using this possible reality to allow us to look at ourselves in the mirror and consider the implications and morality of our actions. Carriers may be slight on plot, but it still manages to make us think and it succeeds in getting us to identify with the characters and put ourselves in their shoes. That leads to some uncomfortable moments at times throughout the film, but that appears to be what the movie wants and first-time director Alex Pastor (who also co-wrote the script) pulls it off masterfully without descending into melodrama or relying on excessive gore or violence. The actors playing the four central characters also deliver excellent performances that help keep the film moving along at its brisk pace. Some of the ancillary actors are not always up to the task, though, and the middle section where they encounter a group of makeshift containment-suit-clad survivors nearly bogs the film down. But Pastor ushers the movie past that and it resumes its pace for a poignant yet bleak ending.

For some reason, this movie was pushed as a horror film which seems like a poor fit for its more sci fi oriented subject matter. It may be that the studio did not quite know how to market this somewhat sparse film made on what must have been a small purse (though it never really looks low-budget). Because of its horror label, it does throw in a few cheesy jump-out-and-scare-you moments, though that never really detracts from the film. It also has very much the feel of a zombie-pocalypse tale even though it lacks the walking dead (the plague apparently does zombify its victims to some extent, though that is never really explored). Chris Pine has since hit the big time, and you would have thought that would draw more attention to this film, but I rarely hear it mentioned.  It is definitely worth checking out, though, and I would call this the best zombie-pocalypse movie without zombies that I have ever seen!

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