Although not as well-known and epic as the likes of “Contagion” and “Outbreak,” “Carriers” (2009) is a nice little horror-suspenser that explores a pandemic on an intimate scale after it has wiped out most of the world’s population. Remarkably, this small film stars Chris Pine after he had already become an A-lister with “Star Trek” earlier that year. In fact, the film, shot in 2006, was released because of his new stardom. Pine plays one of four survivors driving through New Mexico on their way to the Texas Gulf Coast with the vague idea of settling down there.
Pine’s Brian is a type-A personality – “A” as in “a—h—.” Also along for the ride are brother Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci), girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo) and acquaintance Kate (Emily VanCamp). Writer-directors Alex and David Pastor throw us into the midst of this post-apocalypse, and there is a tiny amount of intrigue over what happened and what the wider world looks like. The virus is simple and well-explained: You get it through close human contact with an infected person (as with COVID-19), and it will kill you in a matter of days in horrifying fashion (unlike COVID-19).
However, “Carriers” is mostly a character study; in fact, it barely qualifies for the horror label. Granted, some of the human behaviors will make viewers horrified, or at least squeamish. Brian’s policy is that if you have the virus, you’re as good as dead. The group agrees that they won’t help any infected people, and if any of them gets infected, that person will leave the group.
“Carriers” shows us how it’s easy enough to make those rules, but harder to follow them. First they encounter a father and daughter (Christopher Meloni and an unrecognizably young Kiernan Shipka, partly because she’s wearing a face mask). As part of a pact to share a working vehicle, all six travel together, so we see logical yet poignant yet frightening moments such as Bobby playing patty-cake with the little girl with only a layer of saran wrap between them.
The Pastors force us to ask how we’d behave in specific scenarios. If you thought you might be infected, but weren’t sure, would you say anything? Would you leave the group once you were infected, or try to stay? And how closely would you adhere to the rule of shunning people in need?
“Carriers” tries to be a tear-jerker, reminding us via a Polaroid and some home-video-style flashbacks that the brothers used to be innocent kids playing on a beach, a contrast with where they have ended up. It also tries to say something about the relationship between Danny and Kate, who don’t know each other well but are thrown into this situation together. Does that tighten their bond, or is it tragic that the closest person left to them is a stranger?
The film doesn’t achieve everything it aims for, and arguably aside from a great scene involving a dog and his deceased owners, it doesn’t have horror moments that I’d describe as surprising or original. Some sequences are random in retrospect, including a group holed up at a golf resort that seems vaguely interested in acquiring women to rape.
And if you’re looking for any wider world-building whatsoever, you won’t find it here. However, given that COVID-19 has people thinking about how physically close they should get to other people, “Carriers” certainly has a starkly renewed resonance in 2020.