The Pop of King

The One That Got Away

Stephen King on ''Carriers'' -- A sharp but small horror flick got no love from the multiplex

Stephen King on 'Carriers'

During the last week of this year's movie summer (which ends on Labor Day weekend), a little film played in a few venues. There were hardly any reviews, although the website Fearnet.com took note, calling this film ''consistently challenging...it subverts what you're probably expecting from an 'end of the world' horror flick.'' Fearnet reviewer Scott Weinberg also noted that the releasing company, Paramount Vantage, no longer exists. That, of course, was one reason that Carriers lasted about as long as a fog of breath on a windowpane. The bigger reason is that Carriers is a small, quiet movie in an American market that increasingly belongs to pictures featuring ginormous special effects and A-list actors who sign on mostly because all those zeroes on the paycheck are too tempting to pass up.

Readers of The Stand (or those who've seen the miniseries, which seems to show up on cable at least once every lunar cycle) will be familiar with Carriers' premise: A deadly flulike virus has decimated America. Readers of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (to be released as a movie next month, starring Viggo Mortensen and undoubtedly featuring the requisite special effects) will be familiar with the plot, which involves a few survivors — two brothers and their female companions — trying to find safety in a world where resources are disappearing, society has broken down, and danger lurks everywhere.

The story begins and ends with home-movie footage of the brothers as children, frolicking on an idyllic beach. We meet the grown versions — far less appealing, but not without redeeming qualities — wearing flu masks and trying to get back to that place of childhood safety and happiness. When they run out of gas, they hijack an SUV belonging to Frank, whose young daughter is showing the first symptoms of the deadly disease. The group takes the terrified father and his dying daughter along, after using plastic sheeting to quarantine them in the back. Such a scenario can't end happily; we know from the start that these people are pretty much doomed.

Is Carriers a great movie? No. But it's a good movie. Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) is sensitive and believable as the survivalist older brother's girlfriend, and Christopher Meloni, a.k.a. Law & Order: SVU's stalwart Det. Elliot Stabler, turns in a bravura performance as the desperate father. When he's on the screen, you can't take your eyes off him; the simplicity of his rage and grief compels belief. And in my opinion, actors who spend 50 percent of their screen time wearing flu masks that cover 50 percent of their faces deserve medals for even adequate performances. The real pleasures of Carriers are its bleak, believable script and the gorgeous daylight-nightmare cinematography of Benoit Debie, the Belgian director of photography who also shot a nifty little scare picture called Joshua and won the Sundance Cinematography Award in 2007. Downbeat or not, Carriers is a beautiful thing to look at.

My point? Actually, I have two. The first is that you should definitely put Carriers in your Netflix queue. The second is that there ought to be a place in American theaters for good little movies like this. I've inveighed about big empty blockbusters like Transformers and G.I. Joe before, and I'm not going to do it again here; as somebody or other no doubt smarter than I am once said of such entertainments, ''If you like those kinds of things, these are the kinds of things you'll like.'' But in a country where even small cities support movie hives containing 10 or 12 theaters, the big boys shouldn't be able to suck all the air out of the room, should they?

The current ad for Paranormal Activity, opening in a dozen or so locations (including such film meccas as Baton Rouge, La., and Boulder, Colo.), tells audiences to ''Demand it!'' That isn't such a bad idea. The next time you see or hear of a good small film like Carriers, why not ask your local cinema to book it — if only in the dusty little 60-seat screening room at the end of the Popcorn Hallway of Death, where they're still showing The Proposal for one old fella who got in on his senior discount, farted twice into his seat, and then fell asleep. It couldn't hurt, and who knows — you might wind up having an authentic movie experience.

Originally posted Oct 02, 2009 Published in issue #1069-1070 Oct 09, 2009 Order article reprints
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