Carriers Movie Review

by Jason Lees,

Let’s face it, no one is really afraid of zombies. Not in real life. Sure, we all cringe when a wall of the undead surge forward in a movie and start munching on people, but once we leave the theater or eject the disc, the fear is over. We might get a little bit of that delicious unease when we’re walking alone at night past a cemetery, but we never really think the undead are going to come after us. Not really. Maybe that’s why zombie flicks are so popular. They’re complete escapism.

Sir George Romero knows this and uses the undead as metaphor, an excuse to explore other issues, then doubling back and giving us a steaming pile of intestines to satisfy the fun fiction drive we’re all looking for in a zombie flick. Now, what would happen if you had a walking dead movie but without the walking dead? Take the premise and structure of a zombie outbreak movie and remove those supernatural (ie. fun) elements and play it out as a drama. Instead of hiding the social commentary behind punk rock gore and nausea inducing effects, put those issues right up front and ask the tough questions.

Well, you’d get something like 2009’s “Carriers,” my new favorite zombie-free zombie movie.

Carriers,” when discussed, is really a plague movie, an end of the world type tale where four people are on a quest to find the last safe place on earth after a virus has killed or is killing off most of the world. Instead of being epic in scale, the film stays with our four leads as they travel the highways to find a place they think will be safe. They have no idea where to go, so they just pick a place that feels right, a place that two of them have fond memories of. We meet up with them after the plague has decimated most of the country so we start right off with them already experiencing a sort of cabin fever in a car.

Think of “Zombieland” only not played for laughs. We’re never given a long detailed explanation of what’s happened, and we don’t need it, do we? We’ve seen all the other movies and know that the world has ended. We’re just here to see it from a different perspective.

The genius here is that directors/writers/brothers David Pastor and Alex Pastor take all the ingredients of the zombie road pic and remove the undead element, thereby giving this story an immediate sense of dread. Imagine all those moments in Romero’s movies where the hero has to put a bullet in someone who’s been bitten. As intense as that is, the fact that they’re doing it to stop them from becoming a fictional monster lessens the impact. In “Carriers,” you don’t get that relatively easy out. There’s no “we have to shoot them to keep the undead away” excuse. Here, it’s “we have to shoot them or they MIGHT make us sick, too.” No easy answers. No easy choices.

“CARRIERS” works as an exploration of those themes. If you’ve ever watched AMC’s The Walking Dead and then discussed with your friends what you’d do in that situation, then this is right up your twisted alley. With the four leads, we’re given four choices of what people would do when confronted with tough choices, and then we’re given four outcomes, none of which seem that promising, but none seem fake or Hollywood.

The film isn’t the fastest paced, but that adds to the reality. In a world where most of what you do is drive endlessly down back roads, it shouldn’t be a thrill a minute. And it’s a bit talky, but again, what else do you do in car for days on end?

This belongs on the shelf next to last year’s “The Road.” “Carriers” isn’t as depressing as that film, but it explores similar themes and is just as sharply done. Think of it as a conversation starter more than anything else. They don’t make too many of its kind, but “Carriers” is one of the best horror dramas I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not a party movie, but every once in a while I like to sit back and let a movie take me places that I’ll hopefully never have to go. “Carriers” delivers that and then brings you home a bit changed, a bit more tired, but better for it.

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