Carriers (Alex and David Pastor, 2009)
NOTE: this review contains spoilers. They are not specific to the plot, but the revelations in the first paragraph may diminish your enjoyment of the film; you may want to watch the movie first. (You do want to watch the movie.)
Carriers is the most interesting example of a bait-and-switch movie I’ve ever seen. When I sat down to watch it, I was all set to start off with an opening paragraph excoriating the filmmakers for giving away one of the film’s main spoilers in its very title, not to mention doing the same to the guy at Netflix who wrote the plot synopsis. After all, the film—supposedly—turns on the idea that its four principal characters are trying to stay alive during a pandemic, then discover that they are actually patient zero (or, well, patient zero through three), and they’re actually giving it to everyone they come into contact with. This is not the case, which makes me wonder why they chose that name in the first place. It also sets the viewer up to expect a certain kind of film. Carriers is not that film. It is, instead, a drama—I hesitate to use the term “moral drama”, but if the shoe fits—about various people and how they react to surviving in a post-apocalyptic landscape. It has far more in common with Tim Fehlbaum’s moody German thriller Bright than it does with the current spate of zompocalypse movies.
Plot: two brothers and the girlfriends—Danny and Brian (Evil Dead‘s Lou Taylor Pucci and Star Trek‘s Chris Pine) and Kate and Bobby (Brothers and Sisters‘ Emily VanCamp and Coyote Ugly‘s Piper Perabo)—are, as we open, speeding through the desert in a stolen Mercedes. Not that anyone notices the car is stolen; they are four of the last survivors in America. A pandemic (I have read online synopses that say it’s a strain of bird flu, though I don’t remember hearing that in the movie) has devastated the populace; as far as we can tell, the number of human beings left alive in America at the opening of the film can be counted in the dozens. (Towards the end of the movie, as some of the remaining survivors are driving through Texas, we hear a radio broadcast from a woman who reports that she is the last person left alive in Corpus Christi.) Brian has formulated a number of rules for survival that have kept them alive; he also half-believes, since neither he nor his brother have been infected, that the family is “chosen”, and that they and the ladies will be ultimately responsible for repopulating America. (The first part of that sentence is explicitly stated in the movie. The second part is not, but looking at it like that puts a whole lot of the first half of the movie into perspective.) As we open, they have been driving for an undetermined, but lengthy, amount of time without having encountered anyone else. That changes when they run across Frank (Law and Order: SVU‘s Christopher Meloni) and his daughter Jodie (Flowers in the Attic‘s Kiernan Shipka), who are on their way to a nearby town where, supposedly, a team of doctors have come up with a new serum that is helping. Teaming up with Frank and Jodie would break…most of them. Circumstances, however, force an alliance, and the foursome take a detour from their west coast destination to get Frank and Jodie to the medical complex.
It’s tough to give a plot synopsis because—and, like the opening paragraph, this could be construed by some people to be a major spoiler—Carriers is an episodic film. Our protagonists move through the film, and other characters surround them, but the way the movie is structured emphasizes their aloneness on this roadtrip through a blasted desert landscape; all of their relationships are temporary, and ultimately, the central question posed by the movie is whether these characters are capable of forming permanent relationships, including with each other. That may seem an odd central question in a movie focused on two brothers, but as time goes on, the companionship between Danny and Brian frays. Given the context, there’s a real air of menace about fights that would, in most other movies, seem kind of trivial. Here, they work.
The best shot in the movie comes about two-thirds of the way through. The band as it stands at that point are running low on gas, and they stop at a gas station. The sign at the roadside says “MICHAEL DEAD/MEAT IN TOWN.” Instead of an A, it’s an upside-down V. The letters are in two colors. You’ve seen a hundred gas station signs with two-colored letters and misspelled words in real life. When’s the last time you saw one in a movie? *** ½