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Non-Review Review: Carriers

At the end of the world, what do you take with you? It’s a question that underpins the vast majority of post-apocalyptic tales, wondering if our human could survive past the collapse of society. At its best, Carriers handles the question head-on, with refreshing frankness. Unfortunately, it tends to fluctuate rather unevenly – going for fairly straight-forward “gotcha!” scares and aping other far more successful movies in a fairly shallow manner. Carries isn’t the best piece of post-apocalyptic fiction in recent memory – nor is it even the best one produced in the past year. However, if you’re a fan of the genre, it provides a fairly decent amount of entertainment.

You wouldn't to sick them on you...

The plot essentially follows four survivors on a roadtrip through the end of the world. Although never explicitly named in the movie, the script hints that the global pandemic which wiped out civilisation was bird flu or something similar. I’ll let medical experts dispute what it may or may not be. Either way, the film arguably missed its window of  opportunity, given how bird flu is so last year. Of course, movies about deadly viruses wiping out the world’s population don’t need a hook a to be popular, nor do they need to be topical in order to be good.

Indeed, the last few years have seen a major resurgence in “end of the world” movies. Be it the ever-increasing success of the zombie movie or thrillers like The Book of Eli or dramas like The Road, it’s clear that the end of everything is lingering on the edge of public consciousness. I’m sure there’s a book to be written juxtaposing these clear apocalyptic nightmares against lighter fare like Star Trek (shiny and exciting blockbusters supposed to trumpet the Obama era).

Either way, Carriers finds itself in an over-populated market place at the moment, which means that it really needs to find a hook to distinguish itself. Watching it, it appears to have something of an identity crisis. After all, there’s only so much nail-biting suspense you can wrangle from the rather basic “will he or she come into contact with infectious material?” schtick. It seems the characters are eternally only mere millimeters away from a potentially contaminated surface and we’re asked to hold our breath as we wait to see if they will end up becoming infected. As you can imagine, this series of near-misses and inevitable contamination becomes almost banal, even halfway through the movie’s rather sparse runtime.

This movie is clearly selling itself as a horror or a chiller. There are moments where the music or sound effects ask us to jump, even though we know that viral infection simply doesn’t work the same way that – for example – a wild animal, crazy human or zombie alien does. You can’t continually try to jolt us like that without it becoming tired, because there’s no sudden visceral consequence of failure. If a beast catches a lead in a horror film, it kills him immediately – possibly viciously. Here, if someone gets infected, they don’t show symptoms for about twenty minutes or so.

Dead entertaining...

Instead, the movie would have done better to sell itself as a drama. It isn’t exactly as deep or moving (nor, thankfully, as soul-destroyingly bleak) as The Road, but it does ask some interesting questions about how morality and survival can be balanced as it comes down to the line. These are the moments when the movie really works – when characters are forced to make the very tough decisions, even if that means horrible fates for others (especially innocents). While The Road always granted its leads a certain moral certitude (“are we still the good guys?”), that is refreshingly absent here.

However, the movie doesn’t always handle that aspect particularly well. While there are some stunningly effective emotional blows, there are other moments were the script drops the ball. The most important is that the characters don’t really get any development for the first forty minutes or so. They are portrayed as hardened survivors with skeletons in their closets. However, they are also presented as borderline unlikable jerks. It isn’t that they do horrible things – the audience realises that the cost of living is sometimes quite steep – it’s just the arrogance and stupidity of the leads is sometimes infuriating. “You know,” one minor character observes as he holds a shotgun to the head of the lead, “I just met you and I’m already sick of you.” Witty wordplay aside, it’s hard not to feel the same way.

The second is that the movie feels like it is blatantly ripping off a whole host of other movies in the glimpses that we get of other characters – and frequently better movies. In one sequence, eerily reminiscent of 28 Days Later, the group stumble across a hotel run by a bunch of very organised men (rather than a country estate run by military men), with similar inhumanity displayed. The moment was much more effective in Danny Boyle’s film because it was built up to (and handled superbly by Christopher Eccleston), but here it’s just handled like a throwaway scene.

That said, the movie has a decent leading actor in Chris Pines. It seems that his range extends to cocky jerks who aren’t really that appealing as well as cocky jerks who are mysteriously appealing. Pine isn’t going to pick up any awards – nor earn himself consideration as a great thespian – but he gets the job done, and gives his character a fair amount of complexity and depth. Christopher Meloni (from Law & Order: SVU) pops up as the driver of an SUV with a sick daughter and makes the most of relatively little screentime.

Don’t get me wrong. Carriers isn’t a bad film. It’s fairly okay if you’re looking for a decent post-apocalyptic thriller. However, it does come with some serious baggage – most of which comes from the fact that it’s all over the place. The script is episodic and movie (even at a leen ninety minutes) could do with a considerable trim.

2 Responses

  1. I liked Carriers alot actually but like your description of it. Not sure I’d call it horror per se either.
    I did find the stuff with the Father and Daughter reeeeeeeeally hard to watch… probably cuz I have a daughter myself and could really feel how hard it would be in those shoes.

  2. It was rather bleak, at the end. It’s just hard to notice because the sky isn’t black.

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