Chris Pine starred in not one, but two of the best genre films of 2009. Of course, everyone knows about Star Trek, and Pine’s brilliant take on the iconic Captain Kirk. It was one of the biggest hits of the year, after all. The other film, however…well…not so much. You see, Carriers – a film that had already suffered the indignity of sitting on a shelf for two years - didn’t get much fanfare upon its release. As a matter of fact, it didn’t get much of a release at all. If you blinked, you missed this one; it’s as simple as that, and the film would have probably been destined for an unceremonious DVD dumping were it not for a certain entertainment magazine and one of its columnists. The magazine of which I speak is Entertainment Weekly, and the scribe is one Stephen Edwin King. Word is, he knows a little something about scary.
Anyhoo, this King fella has a little column that he writes for EW called “The Pop of King”, and he recently dedicated an entire column to Carriers. You see, Uncle Stevie, well, he liked this movie. Goshdarnit, he loved it. And, he, like me, wanted to know just why in the hell a thoughtful, emotional, and downright terrifying little movie like Carriers couldn’t find an audience while detritus like the Saw films and Twilight had them lining up around corners.
I think Uncle Stevie shook something loose over at Paramount, because, no sooner did I read that article than I received a press release announcing that Carriers was going to be getting a fast-track release to home video, and would make it’s DVD debut beginning 12/8/09 as a “rental only” title (remember those?). In any event, Carriers would finally get its audience, and audiences would finally get a chance to experience one of the most sophisticated and scary horror films of the year.
Carriers opens with a haunting song played over some home movie footage of two young boys playing on a beach. We are then introduced to Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci) and his big brother, Brian (Pine) as they guzzle beers and speed down an empty highway with Brian’s girlfriend, Bobby (Piper Perabo), and Danny’s friend, Kate (Emily VanCamp) in tow. At first it just looks like your average Sunday afternoon joyride in the southwest, but, when the group happen upon a truck in the middle of the road, we learn this is something else entirely. Brian orders everyone to put on their surgical masks and roll up the windows as they drive up to the vehicle.
The driver, a seemingly affable fella named Frank (the always amazing Christopher Meloni), asks them for some fuel. He says he and his little girl are heading west, and, we are then shown an adorable little moppet peeking over the window at Brian and the Bobby. Bobby waves at the girl, and the girl sits up, revealing a blood spattered surgical mask. That’s when all hell breaks loose.
You see, a viral epidemic has wiped out much of the human race, and, so far, Brian, Bobby, Danny, and Kate have done a good job keeping themselves healthy. They know that the virus lives on anything it touches for 24 hours, a little bleach goes a long way, and if you’re infected, you’re as good as dead.
As Brian speeds away from Frank and his daughter, he ruptures their car’s gas tank in the process, forcing them to broker a deal with Frank. They’ll give him their gas if he gives them his truck. They’ll take him where he wants to go, provided he keeps his sick little girl away from them. It’s an uneasy truce that Brian often attempts to break, but is held to his promise by the compassionate Danny. Matters are complicated further when one of the travelers is exposed to the virus, forcing Danny and Brian to make hard decisions that test the limits of their relationship.
Carriers is a quiet, character-centric piece, with more of a focus on the human element of a post-plague society rather than on action or jump-a-minute scares. Viewers expecting the rage-zombie thrills of 28 Days Later or the mayhem of Romero’s The Crazies will be sorely disappointed, as Carriers just isn’t that type of film. It’s more of a road movie/morality play; the story of a young man coming into his own, held in check by the big brother whose always looked out for him. Danny doesn’t often agree with Brian’s actions, but he doesn’t question them, either, as Brian’s way of doing things is what’s kept them alive this long. But when Brian’s sense of self-preservation comes at the expense of others, Danny begins to see him for the selfish jerk he is, and realizes it’s time to step out from under his big brother’s wing. The virus doesn’t just serve as a convenient backdrop for all of this – its effects repeatedly spark confrontation and debate amongst our protagonists – but the real focus of the movie are the people living in this dying world, and the lengths to which they’ll go to continue doing so.
Directed by brothers Alex and David Pastor, Carriers is also a visually stunning film, filled with gorgeous vistas and lush cinematography courtesy of Benoit Debie (who also filmed the equally lovely Vinyan). The performances are outstanding across the board, with Pine making for an oddly appealing antagonist, while Meloni offers an devastating portrayal of a father coping with an inevitable loss. His role is a minor one, but it resonates throughout the film, as his character indirectly serves as the catalyst for the deterioration of Danny and Brian’s relationship.
Paramount releases Carriers on a bare bones rental DVD presenting the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image quality is above average, with strong, vibrant colors and rich, inky blacks. There’s a hint of digital compression in some of the darker sequences, but, seeing as how much of the action takes place in broad daylight, those instances are few and far between. Whether or not Carriers gets a more complete package when it hits retail is anyone’s guess, but, as of this writing, there are no extras to be had.
Carriers is not for everybody. Gorehounds and action buffs will most likely find the film overlong and under stimulating, while germaphobes will probably be emotionally crippled by the experience, especially given the current hysteria surrounding the H1N1 virus. However, for those viewers looking for a sophisticatedly scary and deeply moving twist on the “virus movie” genre, Carriers is one that should most definitely be added to their must-see list.