Directed by: Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke
Premise: Set in Australia amid a zombie epidemic, a father who has been infected (Martin Freeman) searches for a safe haven for his infant daughter before he turns into the undead. He meets a young aboriginal girl (Simone Landers) who accompanies him on the journey.
What Works: The zombie film has been one of the most popular subgenres of horror and in the last few years filmmakers have done some innovative things with the genre. Films such as Life After Beth, The Girl with All the Gifts and It Stains the Sands Red have pushed the zombie genre forward or otherwise innovated beyond the format pioneered fifty years ago in Night of the Living Dead. Cargo is another attempt to move the genre forward and it is a different kind of zombie picture. The film has all the basics we’ve come to expect; the world is besieged by the undead who eat the living and anyone they bite turns into a zombie. Cargo picks up after the initial collapse of society with a set of parents and their infant child seeking a stable shelter in rural Australia. Early on, the mother is killed and the father is infected. In this iteration of the zombie film, the condition takes days to transform someone into the undead and so the father hikes across the country in search of a safe place for his daughter. Cargo is distinguished as a zombie film in several ways. First, it isn’t about people holding off a siege. Instead it is a road trip and it uses the strengths of that story format. Secondly, Cargo focuses on the characters. The zombie genre has traditionally been about humanity’s struggle to survive but Cargo is more about identity. Martin Freeman’s character is flawed and human and he struggles against the virus in an effort to hold onto consciousness. He’s paired with a young aboriginal girl, played by Simone Landers, who has a complicated relationship with her father and with the other members of her community. The character work in Cargo is exceptional. Horror films aren’t usually renowned for their dramatic impact but Cargo is actually more wrenching for its emotional moments than for its gore or scares. Cargo is also interesting as a zombie film for its subtle politics. George A. Romero’s zombie films, especially Dawn of the Dead, were distinguished by their socio-political commentary. Cargo does that, albeit discreetly, by connecting the zombie apocalypse to hydraulic fracturing.
What Doesn’t: The crux of Cargo is that Martin Freeman’s character is infected and must get his daughter to a safe place before he becomes a zombie. He wears a stopwatch that’s supposed to count down how long he has before the zombie virus overtakes his body. It’s a literal ticking clock plot device designed to give the story a sense of urgency. However, anyone with any familiarity with biology will recognize the problem with that; the rate at which a virus would take hold would probably vary from person to person based upon factors like metabolism and overall health. Within the context of this movie that’s a minor quibble. But the progress of the virus through the body of Freeman’s character does seem to be timed to coincide with the needs of the plot. Coincidence drives some critical plot points although that does suit a film in which society has come unraveled.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Cargo is an impressive zombie film. It gives the zombie audience most of the things they look for in these kinds of movies but the filmmakers find ways of innovating on the zombie genre and making something new and contemporary out of it.
Episode: #713 (August 26, 2018)