“Cats or death?” Um…both please. THE CARRIER is a retro indie gem shot in the mid 1980’s in rural Michigan on a budget that seems to have been funded by recycling soda cans. This flick has a lot of talent behind it including the matte-painter from EVIL DEAD II who also worked on Oogieloves… Oh, and the sound effects guy was Bruce Campbell who has done a few things you may of heard about. It was written and directed by first and last time filmmaker Nathan J. White–which is a shame because it showed a lot of promise.
The town of Sleepy Rock has all of the fixings of a rural midwestern town. Small town law, small town friendliness, small town rivalries, small town ugliness. The town outcast is Jake. His family died in a fire that destroyed their house and the town now reviles Jake whom they hold accountable. He sneaks into town from time to time to find some whisky to drown his sorrows and basically just waits to die living in the outskirts of town. After an attack by an unexplained black shadowy beast (or a guy in a gorilla suit), Jake is injured and becomes the carrier of a deadly disease.
This disease is unique though. Jake does not have to actually touch, breath, sneeze or cough on anyone unlucky enough to fall victim to it. They just have to touch an item that was touched by the carrier…sound familiar? You got it. Just like the fucking cooties. Just kidding. If you have no clue what happened before Nirvana released Smells Like Teen Spirit then I’ll tell you. In the 1980s the AIDS scare scared the shit out of a lot of folks, it even lasted into the early 1990s. Instead of finding out what the cause of the disease is and educating themselves about it everyone started sanitizing everything and didn’t want to touch anything a sick person may have. Much like in this joyful little flick. This movie goes so far as to have people wrap themselves in plastic, don’t be a chump ya know. Everyone was paranoid as all hell kind of like in the town of Sleepy Rock! The only way to check an item is to touch a living thing to it. At first the doc uses chicks, but then folks start using the only resource they seem to have an abundance of…cats. When the cat supply dwindles war brews on the horizon.
Speaking of paranoia, White does a fantastic job in establishing a sense of ever increasing paranoia and dread. From the moment of the first death to the jaw dropping close the palpability of impending doom increases as any hope for a peaceful conclusion decreases. The town lies totally isolated with the only bridge being washed out so there is no expectation of help from the outside. People from town fall into two factions, the Joneses and the Barmen. The Barmen wear black trash bags, the Joneses wear clear plastic and upholstery in a battle that boils down to science against religion…over cats…yep. Keep spry and watch your back because there is a lot of allegory flying around in this flick. Jake runs around trying to gather up all of the stuff he’s contaminated once he realizes he is the carrier and the government seems to let the bridge and the town be damned until this disease sorts itself out. The ending is yet another allegory as odd and creepy as the crucifix in the church at Sleepy Rock. It seems that the filmmaker behind this little gem wants everyone to realize that their town is Sleepy Rock and it is just a matter of time before what befell them will happen to you.
On the whole this is an entertaining apocalyptic romp made on the cheap. The costumes are great at adding to the bleak atmosphere and the practical effects work well. Especially the melt with the mirror. THE CARRIER is available on DVD from Code Red Releasing and includes a commentary with the director and Scott Spiegel.