Film review: Carriers

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ANOTHER week, another apocalyptic road movie. This one has been sitting on the shelf for a while waiting for Star Trek to send star Chris Pine stratospheric. The new Captain Kirk isn't quite enough to distinguish it from the 752 other viral horror movies released in the last few years, but debut directing brothers Alex and David Pastor ensure Carriers is better than it needs to be by making an effort to develop their characters rather than simply spraying the screen with gore or falling back on tried and tested flesh-chewing zombie action.

By the time the film opens, an unspecified plague has already wiped out large chunks of the United States, leaving bands of survivors roaming the highway, Mad Max style, in stolen cars on the perpetual look-out for fuel and supplies. We pick up the action with squabbling brothers Brian and Danny (Pine and Thumbsucker's Lou Taylor Pucci). Following the rules of the genre they've developed a set of rules of their own to live by or die. This set of edicts has thus far done a fair job of keeping them alive, along with Brian's girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo) and a rich girl (Emily Van Camp) they've apparently rescued along the way. Heading for the coast to escape the virus and their fellow survivors, their plans are derailed when their car breaks down, forcing them to hijack an SUV owned by a father trying to get his sick daughter to a retreat with a rumoured vaccine.

Though the time frame of the apocalypse is never specified, it's clearly not been that long since the plague hit, and certainly not long enough for them to shred the last vestiges of their humanity in a desperate bid to stay alive. Which means instead of robbing this stranger and his germ-factory kid, they agree to drive them to their destination first, a fatal error that will have dire consequences for at least one member of the group. That, however, is what's good about Carriers. Instead of just presenting a bunch of dumb stereotypes who make stupid mistakes for the sake of driving the plot forward, the Pastor brothers work hard to ensure their character's choices are driven by believable human dilemmas. Hardcore genre fans – or anyone looking for the riotous fun of Zombieland – might be disappointed by these surprising displays of depth, but the gradual fracturing of the group dynamic and the low-key way Carriers depicts the horrors of the end of the world are surprisingly engrossing and, as a result, much more chilling. It's no candidate for greatness, but it deserves to find an audience among connoisseurs of doomsday cinema.

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