Carriers

Left by the side of the road
★★★
☆
Released: 
2009
Director: 
David & Alex Pastor
Starring: 
Chris Pine, Lou Taylor Pucci, Piper Perabo, Emily VanCamp, Christopher Meloni
The Setup: 
It's a harsh life on the plague-infected American plains.
Discussion: 

I bought this from the nice man who sells used DVDs on the street, knowing nothing about it but the title, Carriers. I was soon to find out that it is NOT an action-packed thriller about the letter-carriers of the early postal service, but a biological-infection apocalypse drama, not unlike The Road, but with more action.

This was written and directed by two brothers, David and Alex Pastor, which is interesting in that so much of the drama turns on strained relations between two brothers. We open with old vacation footage of the two brothers playing on the beach, as the credits inform us that this stars Lou Taylor Pucci, of that annoying film Thumbsucker, Piper Perabo, who will always have Coyote Ugly hanging around her neck like an albatross, and Chris Pine, who made this just before shooting to stardom as Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek. Chris is Brian, brother of Lou as Danny, who is traveling with Piper as Bobby, and Danny's girlfriend who he doesn't know very well. The movie gets off to a good start as it looks like the group is returning from a fun beach vacation when they come across a pickup truck blocking the road, and it suddenly reveals itself as a man-against-man biological contamination drama. The man says he just needs gas, but they see that he has an infected little girl in the car, and they drive around him, damaging their car in the process. So they go back, Brian wields a gun, and they take the man's SUV, agreeing under duress to take him and his daughter along, behind a plastic screen duct-taped along the back.

The guy is named Frank and is played by Elias Koteas lookalike Christopher Meloni. They drive into an eerie abandoned suburb, then to the school, where Frank has heard there is a clinic that may have a cure. After some creepy sneaking around the dark school, they find a man inside, experimenting on kids to find a cure. This leads to another tense standoff with guns.

SPOILERS > > >
Meanwhile Bobby is in the car with the little girl who starts coughing. She lowers the barrier to comfort the little girl, and gets a cough of infected blood spattered right in her face for her trouble. Better to just leave those little girls to die, Piper! She tries to hide her probable infection, and soon sociopathic bully Brian forces the group to leave Frank and his daughter behind to die, stealing their car in the process.

They stop at a golf resort where they find an eerie pool full of infected bodies. Bobby resists Brian's advances, knowing that she's probably a big hive of infection, but doesn't tell him why. Soon they are set upon by these survivalists, who want to take the girls for what we can imagine are nefarious purposes, until it is revealed that Bobby is infected. After some gunplay the group escape, with Bobby now behind the plastic screen in the back. After stopping at a gas station it becomes pretty clear that Brian loves Bobby, but now that she's a big bag of infection, she's next for the side-of-the-road treatment.

Well, gues who's infected now? That would be Brian, leading to tense standoffs between the brothers as Brian holds onto the car keys, and the gun, knowing that soon he may be next on the roadkill list. This brother-against-brother situation makes up the climax, after which nothing is really resolved, but that's fine, since the point is all this reflection on bonds torn apart and how nasty people will be when survival is at stake.
< < < SPOILERS END

So yeah, this isn't so much a thriller as a low-key reflection on harsh post-infection times, whose big moments are those turns in which someone formerly beloved gets harshly left by the side of the road to die. This is why the film only got the tiniest of theatrical releases, and many viewers on the IMDb feel like the whole thing is a waste of time. It's not, but you just have to realize it's more low-key meditation on human nature than head-spattering zombie fest. As such it's pretty good, but you know, head-spattering zombie fests kind of come with a reason to watch them--the thrill of watching those heads spatter--and with this you kind of start to think: Did I need to watch this? Did I need to reflect on the harsh realities of human nature as magnified by some biological infection? Like, more so than I do just from reading the paper, anyway? And the thing is that no, you actually really don't. So it becomes purely elective, like you know, if you've got the spare time to reflect on the harsh realities of human nature as magnified by an imaginary plague, but if not, no big loss.

So ultimately this is like an adaptation of The Road but without the hand-wringing pretension and air of grasping for quality, which makes it more appealing, but still, purely elective. All pretty good, well done, all that, just a tad pointless, and ever so slightly lacking in reason to exist. As usual, comes down to how much time you have to kill.

Should you watch it: 

If you feel like pondering the harsh realities of human nature, you know, again.