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‘Carriers (Phase 6)’

Mankind, wiped out by virus, yet again

by Kaori Shoji

With the pollen-infused, mask-wearing allergy season in full swing, our thoughts will no doubt at some point turn to viral outbreak — or so the Japanese distributors of “Carriers” (released in Japan as “Phase 6″) are likely hoping. This little-seen, under-appreciated horror film that opened in the United states last year before fading into oblivion, has more substance and a lot more sartorial flare than you’d expect from what initially seems to be just another virus horror tale.

Director-writers Alex and David Pastor have refrained from hosing the screen with blood, innards and guts of zombies; instead they have gone for a stylish, sun-scorched and windswept look. And with much of the action taking place on a straight, open road under a blazing blue sky, and performed by a leggy cast in expensive casual ensembles, you’d almost mistake the movie for a fashion documentary: A death-themed runway infected with a seriously bad virus.

“Carriers” takes off confidently from the launch pad of “28 Days Later” (Danny Boyle’s film of a global outbreak of a deadly virus that almost wipes out humanity) only to land mid-journey in the muddled marshland of “Blindness” Fernando Meirelles’ exploration into courage and morality after an entire city’s population is struck by blindness). From then on, it doesn’t seem to know quite where its going, and the combination of a deadly pandemic and the collapse of human morality sits rather heavily on the frail shoulders of the film’s young leading cast.

Brothers Brian (Chris Pine from the latest “Star Trek”) and Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci), and their girlfriends Bobby (Piper Perabo) and Kate (Emily VanCamp) travel together in a swanky Mercedes, bound for a remote beauty spot on the Mexican coastline, a place the brothers had visited as children. But this is no ordinary outing, the Mercedes has been boosted and the glorious weather only highlights the grim expressions of the travelers who sit in depressing silence. They are on the run from a virus that has apparently wiped out most of America and the rest of the world. The plan is to get to the Mexican beach resort and “lay low” until the disease runs its course. Until then, it’s vital that they avoid other people like, well . . . the plague.

But almost immediately, their plans go awry. A middle-age man blocks the road with his car, flags them down and asks for gas. Danny wants to help, but Brian sees that the man’s daughter, who is hiding in the back of his car, is infected. Brian makes the decision, and with a screech of the tires he drives off, leaving dad and the girl stranded. When the others protest, he reminds them that stopping to help would break one of the five iron-clad rules he has imposed, rulse that have so far kept them alive. Five minutes later, we find out whats happens when one is finally broken.

From here on, predictability ensues and the story does the obligatory spin and crash into horrific disaster. The disturbing stuff, however, occurs mostly in the minds of the brothers as they are confronted with moral decisions that no one should have to make. And the more they strive to avoid being infected, the more repugnant they become to themselves. Concern for others (and that includes their nearest and dearest) takes a back seat and the brothers soon realize that they’re not exactly the decent, reasonably brave men they thought themselves to be.

The trouble with pandemic stories is that unlike other apocalyptic tales, the scramble to live means any hero or heroine will inevitably be tainted by cowardice and egotism. “Carriers” isn’t afraid to confront this problem head-on, and it doesn’t offer any solutions. Danny weaves back and forth between wanting to help others and his selfish desire to reach that beach so that he can forget the nightmare.

Brian, on the other hand, is more of a pragmatist — he falls pretty quickly into the better-you-than-me mode and becomes an expert at leaving panicked, screaming people on the curb as he drives off into the sunset (“Rule five: Take what you need and never look back.”) Eventually, however, despair and desperation confuse both the brothers, while an unspoken reality foreshadows their journey: Even if they did make it to safety, with everyone else dead what would be the point?

“Carriers” doesn’t aim to scare so much as discomfort — with its clammy claustrophobic car scenes and the absence of a tangible enemy, the movie crawls under the skin and ferments there.

Give me a good, loud Godzilla disaster movie any day.