Cargo review – a solid addition to the zombie movie

by | 17 May 2018

‘A father infected with a violent virus that has swept Australia attempts to find someone to take care of his child.’

Like the creatures themselves, zombie movies have been shuffling on our screens for decades. With such an over saturated genre, it’s clearly getting harder to find fresh ways to use them that are interesting and engaging. Even AMC’s flagship show The Walking Dead (2010-present) is arguably waning in popularity and quality. Yet, that hasn’t stopped studios from continually churning this sub-genre of the post-apocalyptic film out, with Netflix Original Cargo being the latest.

Set in the Australian wilderness, the story follows Andy (Martin Freeman) and his infant daughter Rosie. Surrounded by a world ravaged by a virus that turns those who are infected into murderous monsters, Andy is trying to find a safe place for his family. When he loses his wife and gets bitten however, he must race across the desolate landscape and find someone to take care of his baby girl before it’s too late.

Despite this over-familiar genre, this is a solid little horror film that makes the most of its simple premise. Much like some of the better scary movies involving zombies, Cargo focuses more on the human element than the monsters themselves. In fact, directors Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling rarely keep the camera on the infected, never allowing us a good look at them until further into the runtime. Not only does this give audiences a chance to emotionally engage in Andy and his plight, but it makes these former humans even scarier. Similarly to this year’s A Quiet Place, it’s also vague about the global landscape and origins of this pandemic. Again, this helps the audience’s attention stay invested in the main characters.

Really, this is a story about human survival, and how people react in different ways to the end of civilisation. Where some like Anthony Hayes’ despicable character Vic see an opportunity to take what he wants, others like Andy manage to hold on to their humanity and compassion. Yes, these are themes that most post-apocalyptic movies explore, but when done well like here, you can’t deny it makes for compelling viewing. Besides, if you do want more, Ramke and Howling make the most of the Australian setting and look at the aboriginal culture, how they view the world and the outbreak.

Notably, this isn’t an action heavy story, with big, bloody set pieces. Rather, Cargo is a slow burn experience, where the plot ticks along at a steady pace. As a result it might be a bit sluggish for some, adding to a very depressing and dour atmosphere as well.

If you can get behind the tone the directors are going for, there’s a great deal to admire and appreciate. It also helps raise the tension and increases the stakes, knowing Andy doesn’t have a lot of time. That it’s not just about safety for him, but about finding someone to essentially adopt his child before he succumbs to the virus. Speaking of which, having a baby in the mix keeps things suspenseful as Rosie has no concept of keeping quiet and could draw unwanted attention anytime.

Going with that more sombre mood is some great cinematography. Indeed, visually speaking, this is a good-looking movie. It’s a shame really, because as a Netflix Original, no one will get the chance to see this on the big screen. Ramke and Howling really get the most out of this stunning but deadly land. They really sell the isolation and hopelessness the characters are feeling just through the location alone. Picturesque as the setting is, they equally hold that beauty alongside the harshness in perfect tension, creating an uneasy viewing experience.

Leading the story is Freeman, who does excellent work as desperate father Andy. He’s really good at playing those everyday type of characters, which is exactly what he does here. Seeing him dig deep within himself when everything he holds dear is at risk, makes him very relatable and easy to cheer on. root for. In those opening twenty minutes, he has a brilliant chemistry with his on-screen wife Kay (Susie Porter), and he really convinces in that relationship in such a short space of time. So much so, the rest of the film wouldn’t have worked without that emotional anchor to begin with. Although tragically written, he skilfully manages to display a smidge of hope through his facade, where he refuses to give up, even though everything around him is crumbling.

Resting mostly on his shoulders, Freeman easily carries this movie, but he is helped by young actress Simone Landers as Thoomi. She’s the heart of the story, and it’s through her we learn about the aboriginal viewpoint and perspective. What’s more, she has a great repertoire with Freeman, and together they offer some touching scenes.

By taking a different setting and slowing the pace right down, Cargo adds something fresh to your average post-apocalyptic zombie movie. Regardless of it touching on overdone themes, this is still a film worth seeing for any self-respecting fan of the genre. With impressive cinematography, heartfelt performances, and a different kind of story, there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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