What’s so interesting, and admirable, about Paramount Vantage’s unfairly-dumped-into-oblivion (limited theatrical release on September 4; forgotten about by the following day), now liberated on DVD, Carriers, is how it deserves so many tired parallels yet manages to subvert them all. Yes, it’s close in tone to The Ruins, and, sure, not unlike the structure of Zombieland. You could even toss some comparisons to The Road in for extended measure and not be overzealous. They’re all earned. But with that degree of “It’s like….” descriptions, it’d be easy for a film to buckle under the pressure and come across as a perfunctory trash-header. Carriers, written and directed by rookie brothers Alex and David Pastor, somehow rises to the occasion, and the end result is mute, personal and, despite its obvious shortcomings, rather satisfying. Continued after the jump:
And also bleak as all hell. The Pastors’ view of humanity will disintegrate into fecal matter in the face of hopelessness and desperation is a downer, to put it lightly. Not entirely unbelievable, though. Carriers, to toss another lame like-this out there, feels like The Ruins as written by an especially-angry, cynical Cormac McCarthy. The films opens in the midst of a global meltdown, the kind of everyman-for-himself catastrophe so overdone by Hollywood’s post-apocalyptic set. Two brothers (Star Trek‘s Chris Pine and fresh face Lou Taylor Pucci), along with Pine’s girlfriend (Piper Perabo) and a second female companion (Emily VanCamp), are in car and en route to the beach that the brothers used to visit with their father, back in the pre-infection days. A fatal virus has wiped out a large section of mankind. Highways are empty, people are reluctant to interact with others. The sickness is spread through the air, and through contact with a sick person’s blood.
Quite the familiar set-up, but where Carriers triumphs in this narrative slant is in its lack of any gratuitous violence. It’s not a horror film, though it was marketed as one (in the six places where it was actually marketed, that is). When infected, folks don’t become snarling, rabid monsters; they’re just diseased, and sad, and contagious. And that’s where the Pastor brothers look down upon civilization; as they see it, we’d be quick to leave a loved one behind once he/she catches the bug, and we’d easily ditch a grieving father and his ailing young daughter (played Mad Men‘s “Sally Draper,” Kiernan Shipka, a great little actress). In the fallen world of Carriers, death is the way to go. As one character puts it, “Sometimes choosing life is just choosing a more painful form of death.”
Alex and David Pastor concentrate so deeply on depicting their fictional society as one of such numbness toward love that the film’s characters become more like pawns in their mission, not fully living and breathing. The performances are all strong (especially Pine, proving that his Captain Kirk turn isn’t a flash in the pan), but they’re mostly hitting big-moment beats. Here’s the scene where the two brothers reminisce about childhood, and then there’s the shot of Pine’s more hard-headed character showing his softer side. Only 80 minutes long, Carriers is a film that deserves more room to breath; if given additional interaction beforehand, the brothers’ big one-gun showdown would’ve struck a thicker chord. The downbeat resolution isn’t given the opportunity to resonate as a tear-jerker.
Carriers finds a way to evoke George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead without jamming its inspiration down throats, and that’s no small feat. Whether intentional or by accident, the wink is there. The four young travelers make a pit stop at a once-luxurious hotel, one complete with a fancy-pants golf course. Pine, Pucci and VanCamp take a pause from all the despair to hit some Titleist balls toward the hotel, breaking windows to their shared delight. The scene goes on for a good five minutes, light-hearted throughout. A nice diversion, before we stick with one golf ball in particular after it crashes through an upstairs window, into a room full of hazmat suits and other suspicious-looking accessories. It’s a reminder that, no matters how much fun they’re having hitting using those clubs Tiger Woods-style, they’re still stuck in a horrible world. Just as the tennis ball hit by Dawn of the Dead‘s “Peter” (Ken Foree) does, the one that he uses to play a little wall-ball for good-timed recreation, but then bounced off the side of the building and lands smack next to a cluster of zombies in the parking lot. Both this golf- and that tennis ball are necessary wake-up calls. The former, to bring matters full circle here, is also evidence that these Pastor brothers have their filmmaking heads on straight. The potential is there, and, with this debut, they deserved a better chance at notoriety than the invisible release of Carriers awarded them.