Captain Kirk vs apocalyptic plague! Alas, we’re not in Shatner land here (the plague would stand no chance, surely?); rather, that’s the intriguing set up for Carriers, starring a post-Star Trek Chris Pine, but which has been gathering dust since 2007.
Alarm bells are never too far away when that ‘delayed release date’ rears its head. But Carriers isn’t nearly as bad as that two-year hiatus would suggest. Although neither is it particularly good. Alex and David Pastor’s debut feature treads a middle ground for much of its running time – neither exciting or scary enough to work as a horror/thriller, nor interesting or deep enough to work as a character piece.
We’re in classic post-apocalyptic world scenario here: a viral pandemic has spread over the globe, leaving survivors to roam the world, mostly by car. Danny (Thumbsucker ‘s Lou Taylor Pucci), his brother Brian (Pine), his girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo) and Brian’s school friend Kate (Emily VanCamp) are trying to reach safe haven at a childhood beach. Someone should have told them to read The Road, though. Journeys across plague-swept landscapes are never without their run-ins.
Effectively a long car trip punctuated with the occasional burst of violence, the Pastor brothers fail to generate any real pace, excitement or suspense over the film’s running time. They can engineer a great jump scene, or two, to be precise, nailing the combination of sharp editing and thudding sound effects.
And it has an interesting theme at its core – that the four friends pose more danger to each other than the virus they’re trying to avoid. Like a good Stephen King story, the Pastor brothers tell of a self contained community that’s scarier than anything the outside world has to offer, the four having established their own rules of how to deal with any infected they come across and be ruthless in their quest to survive.
But any drama that could be drawn from this is ruined by the Pastors’ lazily sketched central characters. There isn’t an interesting one between them. Pine can’t do much with Brian, a fairly unlikeable oaf, Pucci’s Danny struggles to make any impact until it’s too late, while Perabo and VanCamp don’t have anything to do. A study of characters driven to extreme measures hasn’t much hope of working without any real characters at its heart.
It’s a hole in the middle of Carriers that’s filled briefly by Chris Meloni’s devoted father and his virus-stricken daughter, picked up by the four friends in the film’s first act. Yet, when they’re jettisoned soon after, the life drains out of the film.
In its corner, the film looks terrific on what was likely a limited budget, conveying a world deserted and left to ruin by a mysterious plague. Like The Road, Carriers doesn’t want to dwell on what happened or why, posing a tantalising ‘”what happened?’ question as the characters leave corpses and abandoned cities in their wake. And to their credit, the Pastors take the road less travelled. If Cormac McCarthy’s novel, and the upcoming film, tell of a world ravaged and yet still alive with hope, Carriers doesn’t even offer that. It’s a brave path to take, and the film refuses any kind of happy ending.
That sense of unfulfilled promise is what’s so frustrating here. Carriers isn’t the worst film of the year, certainly not bad enough to warrant that two-year stretch on the shelf. But the Pastor brothers can’t align their ambition with their execution, leaving glimpses of a better film struggling to get out.
Now, if they’d just gone for Shatner …