It's impossible to gauge exactly how large an impact Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later has had on the zombie/outbreak genre, but its mark is everywhere. Specifically, the film Carriers would not exist without it, or at least not in its current incarnation. This low-budget suspense/drama doesn't make a lot of noise, but serves as more than just a distraction from bigger blockbusters. It's a brooding character piece, if you think of the four central roles as one fully realized character. I guess a contagious infection movie doesn't work if there's no one else to infect. Thus, Carriers, and not The Carrier.
The very first thing to take into consideration is that this is not a horror film, if that's what you're looking for. There are a couple of horrific elements (Chris Pine's neck beard), but the scares and gore are kept to a minimum, and the film works all the better for it. Because this plot and its progression have been done before, the avoidance of most genre trappings are really where it holds its water. How much water is totally up to interpretation.
The deceptively simple plot is this: a vaguely sourced airborne pathogen has infected the population, and four (unlikely, in the scheme of things) survivors continue trying to survive, breathing masks in tow. Brian (Pine) and Bobby (Piper Perabo) are an attractive young couple, together despite Brian being an infantile douchebag, which Pine plays with an intentionally annoying authority. With them are Brian's brainy brother Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci) and his undefined female friend Kate (Emily VanCamp). The foursome are on a perseverance road trip, one aimed for a hopefully abandoned hotel on a beach where the brothers vacationed with their parents in years before. The trip is hindered by a constant need to refuel, a duty that introduces them to Frank (Christopher Meloni) and his daughter Jodie ( Kiernan Shipka), two gasoline-less loners stranded in the middle of the open road. The key to sustained existence is power in numbers, and Jodie's case isn't aided by the fact that she is infected. Frank's goal is to get to a hospital where a cure has reportedly been discovered.
The actual action and goings-on in the film are admittedly few and far between. The infection doesn't create braindead carnivores, zipping around and racking up body counts. It rots people alive, which dulls the line between the living and the dead. These aspects of the "villains" may seem important from the offset, but that's before you get any real sense of the film's purpose, which is to document survival on a personal level. A darker side of human nature is showcased, and despite some clunky dialogue and line readings, it works. One cannot deny the inherent bleakness of the film. The wide shots in the empty southwest convey the proper feeling of spaced-out isolation, one where any outside movement at all can result in danger or relief.
The limited cast should be pleased with their efforts, even though each actor was a little "too something." Meloni was too serious and instigating. Pine was too obnoxious. Perabo was too "cool." Pucci was too submissive. And VanCamp was too emotionally flippant. But there was a clear chemistry amongst them, whether positive or negative. The two brothers had their set boundaries with one another, and some of the more interesting details of the film are those that are only hinted at about their family's past. A couple of other similar non-reveals are well placed as well, though my enjoyment of them may be due to the absence of heavy story for the majority of the film. The story is in the limits of ethics and compassion. This works in such a way that the infected, both dead and alive, are accompanied by melancholy, rather than abject terror. It's a strange thing to put a finger on, because if it were a larger project, a studio would have amped up the emotional pulse, forcing either a visceral turn or a depressive one. Carriers quietly toes the line between intriguing realism and droll drama, and while the movie doesn't quite drag, it does crawl from some scenes to others.
So I definitely enjoyed it, even though it mildly copies similar movies. At least they're movies I dug. I don't want to say I was moved by the viewing, but the moments when the punch is packed are delivered strong. I look forward to whatever the directing Pastor brothers do next, but I hope it makes me smile behind my SARS mask.
There were no special features on the disc other than previews and subtitles. To be noted, the film is only available for rent for the next three weeks until its release on December 29th. Maybe that'll have features, but I doubt it.