At first glance, Carriers has at least two things going for it: Star Trek’s hunky Chris Pine and a viral pandemic storyline to appeal to swine flu hypochondriacs.
Unfortunately, after enduring 84 minutes of bland acting, lukewarm frights and forgettable cinematography, it becomes clear that those two things are all this so-called horror film has going for it – and neither is used particularly well. It had the potential to be another 28 Days Later, or even just a decent psychological study, and instead it ends up the cinematic equivalent of the common cold.
The film opens with a grainy home movie, showing two cute little boys blissfully playing at the beach with their parents. Years later, now grown-up brothers Brian (Chris Pine) and Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci) are on the road with Brian’s girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo) and Danny’s non-girlfriend Kate (Emily Vancamp), on what appears to be a light-hearted road trip, with teasing banter and road games.
However, when the group is stopped by a man in the road in need of fuel (Christopher Meloni), it soon becomes clear that the whole world – or at least the US, which is often the same thing in Hollywood films – is in the grip of an incurable, deadly and highly contagious plague. This is no ordinary road-trip. In a last ditch attempt to escape what seems inevitable, the boys are heading to Turtle Beach, the site of their idyllic childhood holidays. The girls are in tow to presumably help them with repopulation.
Leader Brian literally lives by four rules: avoid populated areas; if you come into contact with other people, assume they have it; never touch anything that hasn’t been disinfected; the sick are already dead. Danny helpfully recaps them for the audience, to give us a sense of just how desperate things have become.
However, predictably, rules are meant to broken, and as Carriers drags on, we see the increasingly unpleasant results of both breaking them, and sticking to them too fiercely. In the quest to keep alive, survivors seem to have to lose their humanity.
While it’s understandable that in such a dire situation, people might behave monstrously and do things that contradicted their personalities, this just does not work in Carriers as you are never able to care about the characters, even before they start their descent into cruelty. You can’t care whether they die or live, which negates much of the film’s potential.
Sure Chris Pine is very nice to look at it, and effortlessly exudes charisma, but he’s not given much to work with – even less so than in Lindsay Lohan turkey Just My Luck. He’s simply the Big Brother with a Chip on His Shoulder. The others are similarly one note. Lou Taylor Pucci’s Danny is the Brainy but Meek Little Brother in Big Brother’s Shadow, Piper Perabo’s Bobby is the Spunky Girlfriend and Christopher Meloni is the Desperate Dad Who’ll Do Anything to Save His Daughter. His daughter Jodie (Kiernan Shipka) is the Adorable Little Sick Girl.
As for Emily VanCamp of Brothers and Sisters fame? At one point, Brian asks Kate why on earth she’s there. You’ll find yourself wondering the same thing, as she seems to serve no purpose other than to obsessively look for telephones and emotionlessly condone ruthless behavior.
Worst of all, it keeps seeming as if something is going to happen, that in just a moment it might redeem itself, and become scary, thrilling or even funny. Such as when the group discovers a school-cum-makeshift hospital full of sick children, a country club with mysterious men in suits, or creepy house full of ravaged corpses.
But it never does. The most you can hope for is a slight jump and mild queasiness in response to uninspired prosthetics. There are also a few vague forays into religious and racial issues, but again, this doesn’t going anywhere either. And if you were hoping for even the vaguest explanation of what caused the virus, you’re out of luck.
It seems the filmmakers thought it didn’t matter, that it wasn’t the point. And they were right. In the end, it’s Carriers that simply doesn’t matter and is pointless.
Apparently, Carriers was completed back in 1997 and due for shelving or straight-to-DVD glory, but was granted a limited cinematic release following the rebooted Star Trek’s summer smash and Chris Pine’s seemingly assured rise to the A-list. They ought to have stuck to their first thought.
While last week’s District 9 was a stellar example of sci-fi, Carriers does not even warrant its horror/thriller label. It’s neither reasonably scary nor thrilling, and it takes itself so seriously that you can’t even enjoy it as a guilty pleasure, a la Paris Hilton’s House of Wax. The best thing about it is that it is mercifully short, although you will still feel fully cheated out of your money and time. Let’s hope its mediocrity isn’t contagious.
(one out of five stars)
Carriers (2009, Paramount Vintage, 84 mins)
Directed by Alex Pastor, David Pastor
Produced by Ray Angelic, Anthony Bregman
Written by Alex Pastor, David Pastor
Starring Chris Pine, Piper Perabo, Christopher Meloni