Undeservingly dumped into a handful of theaters seemingly in the middle of nowhere by Paramount a few months ago, Carriers deserves to find an afterlife on DVD — or, at the least, I think it does, for reasons I'll get into at greater length. Carriers starts with four friends speeding down the road in their car; it could be a perfectly normal road trip, with Brian (Chris Pine) and his girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo) in the front and Brian's brother David (Lou Taylor Pucci) and his not-girlfriend Kate (Emily VanCamp) in the back. But they're driving a little fast, and the car's a Mercedes, and when they come across an SUV parked across the road, the fun-but-weird mood in the car gets very strange, very fast, because the driver (Christopher Meloni) seems fine but his daughter (Kiernan Shipka) has on a surgical mask spotted with blood and everybody seems to know what exact kind of bad news that means. …
And so we learn that the roads aren't just empty because it's the middle of nowhere; the roads are empty because almost everyone's dead. Some plague has hit, and our four friends are in the middle of it trying to get to the ocean to hole up in the hotel David and Brian used to stay at when they were boys — keeping off the interstate, avoiding anyone infected, and otherwise sticking to "The Rules" — when they say it, you can hear the capitals. The disease doesn't turn its victims into zombies or vampires or anything like in 28 Days Later or I Am Legend. It just kills you. No hope, no cure, no vaccine; you just die, and die slow, and die ugly. And that goes a long way in explaining why I like Carriers so much; it's got a low-fi, funky, down-to-the ground feel that writer-director duo Alex and David Pastor work with, and work well with, that makes it a lot more insidiously creepy — and a lot more plausible — than any crazy piece of pseudoscience a more expensive film might work up in order to rationalize big effects moments and over-the-top action sequences.
If you're even slightly germophobic, Carriers will make you squirm. The four wear masks and splash everything a sick person might have touched with oceans of bleach, but they're just playing for time, and they know it. (There's a moment where one character, sitting in the back of a car with a character who has the disease, watches the sick person's sweaty hand print on the vinyl of the seat slowly fade … as they, and we, know that just because you can't see something doesn't mean it can't kill you. It's a simple moment, but it's unendurable. …) Gas is tough to find. Radio stations are fading out. You have to scavenge for food. And hard choices make way for even harder ones.
And the actors, given simple roles and simpler aims — don't get sick and die — work well within the script and the story and the tone of the film. Pine's always had a mix of coolness and hot-headedness — it's why he makes such a good Kirk in Star Trek– and here he works the unlikable ends of that to nice effect. Perabo gets to do some nice stuff, too, playing a shift in the plot with intelligence and carefully-thought-out acting choices. I'm used to seeing Pucci in indie comedies and dramas, and that actually works here — he's a regular guy thrust into the apocalypse, and still dealing with his relationship with his brother. And VanCamp goes from shaken to steely as the consequences mount and things go from worse to even worse.
The Pastor's clearly didn't have a lot of money to work with, but what they have, they use well. There's also a nice bit of shifting in the film — the four aren't only endangered (they just want to live) but also dangerous (as they run into others, they could be … oh, see the title of the film). Carriers was praised by Stephen King (and quality aside, it's easy to see why — it could almost be a deleted scene from the early part of The Stand, after the dying's kicked in but before the supernatural crazy-stuff starts), and after finally seeing it on DVD (I was curious and hoping to catch it in theaters, frankly, but the closest house showing it was in Arizona. I live in L.A.; would have been a bit of a trip …) I found a horror thriller to not only like but respect — one with emotion over motion, ideas over effects, character over coincidence. Claustrophobic, carefully-crafted and truly creepy, Carriers is infectiously insidious, and a welcome change any horror fan can appreciate.