Death, depravity, inhumanity - yeah, and why should I care? ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Death, depravity, inhumanity - yeah, and why should I care?

My rating:

There was a time when a film playing in cinemas that you've never heard of and know nothing about generally fell into one of two categories: a) a B-grader that went direct-to-video in the States, whose international distributors treat markets like Malaysia as dumping grounds; and b) a Z-grader from some other foreign country that couldn't crack the coveted American market and could only sell to less discerning markets (like Malaysia). Our local distributors are somewhat more discriminating now; they largely pick only big Hollywood studio releases. Also, the global film industry has changed. Today, there's a chance that a movie with little to no buzz could be an indie or foreign-language gem - perhaps even a movie that goes on to become a hit, which would give you bragging rights as an early adopter.

Carriers isn't one of them. It sure tried though.

A viral pandemic has spread across the States, killing most of the population and reducing civilization to lawlessness. A group of four survivors - brothers Brian (Chris Pine) and Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci), Brian's girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo), and Danny's friend Kate (Emily VanCamp) - are heading to Turtle Beach, the brothers' childhood holiday destination, to wait for the pandemic to die out. But their encounter with Frank (Christopher Meloni), the father of an infected little girl, is only the first of many that will test their humanity in the face of a highly contagious - and fatal - disease.

That's a very misleading poster up there. It makes the film look like a gory horror flick, and if you've heard of it being about a viral apocalypse, you might assume it's a zombie movie. It's not - the virus just causes people to fall sick and die. And there are some suspenseful moments, plus a few icky-looking infected corpses, but you won't find anything really scary in here. This film is a bleak depiction of a post-apocalyptic landscape, and how survival trumps basic human decency. It's quite a daring, if depressing, film - Brian's group lives by the rule that the infected are already dead, and must be abandoned before they infect anyone else. You can bet that happens to a number of people a number of times in this movie.

The problem is that I never really cared about them. The characters are all dull and flat, and in Brian's case downright unlikable. I don't know why so many American films have this kind of character - the swaggering jerkass who's rude to everyone, whose only goal in life is to party, and whose recklessness gets himself and everyone else into trouble. I swear, it's an archetype. Brian was annoying, and it didn't reflect well on the rest of his group for putting up with him. Bobby is an idiot for dating Brian. Danny is the less assertive younger brother, and has absolutely no personality other than being the less assertive younger brother. Kate has a thing about trying every phone they encounter, hoping to call her parents, but this subplot goes nowhere.

You know what would've helped with the characterization? If the relationships between them were better-developed. You'd expect Bobby and Kate to be close to each other, being the two women of the group, but they barely even seem to be friends. Kate and Danny are friends, and there are hints of some romantic tension between them, but it never develops. As for the brothers, the film keeps flashing back to their idyllically happy childhood, but I never really believed they loved each other - because, again, Brian keeps acting like a jerk to Danny, constantly disparaging his younger brother's acceptance to college before the pandemic hit. The closest thing to a compelling relationship is Frank's with his daughter, but they're gone midway into the movie.

Sometimes good acting can make up for sketchily-written characters. That's not the case here. Chris Pine is the most effective, which is to say he really brings out Brian's assholishness. Piper Perabo has had the longest career of the four lead actors, but has never really distinguished herself - and she doesn't here. Lou Taylor Pucci is boring. (And he and Pine don't look a thing alike. Which genius thought to cast them as brothers?) Emily VanCamp looks like she might've done well if her character had more depth - at times Kate surprisingly displays an almost ruthless pragmatism - but that may've just been because I thought she was cute.

I said that it's a daring film, and it is. Any movie that plumbs the depths of man's inhumanity to man has to be; it stands in stark contrast to Zombieland, which uses the post-apocalyptic milieu for fun and thrills. But while the storyline and direction are generally solid, the lack of any emotional engagement sinks this movie. If we'd cared about these characters - if writer-directors Alex and David Pastor had taken a further polish to the script to make them real and sympathetic - this would have been a devastating film. As it is, it's just a fitfully interesting one.

Expectations: another movie I don't know a damn thing about