It would be refreshing if genre filmmakers found something to interest them beside zombies. The undead seem to be shambling through every horror movie and television show produced in recent years, including Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling’s Australia-set effort Cargo. Aiming more for intense psychological drama than scares, the film is a feature-length expansion of the directorial duo’s acclaimed 2013 short, which went viral. Unfortunately, this lugubrious effort, running 103 minutes compared to the original’s seven, mainly serves to illustrate that stretching out a story isn’t the same as improving it. Debuting on Netflix, the film is unlikely to satisfy either viewers looking for serious-minded fare or horror fans looking for genuine frights.
Martin Freeman plays the central role of Andy, who along with his wife, Kay (Susie Porter), and infant daughter, Rosie, is attempting to survive in the Outback after the outbreak of, you guessed it, a zombie apocalypse. Traveling in the relative safety of a riverboat toward a presumably secure military base, the family runs into trouble when, while ransacking an abandoned yacht in search of supplies, Kay gets bitten by a zombie.
Been there, undead that.
Things only get worse from there. Shortly after transforming into a zombie herself but just before Martin dispatches her, Kay bites him. This means he has exactly 48 hours to find Rosie a safe home before he himself will enter an undead state, signified by viscous liquid spewing from one’s eyes, nose and mouth (a makeup effect that less suggests zombiedom than really, really bad allergies).
Traveling through the Outback with infant daughter in tow, Martin comes across some colorful characters, including Vic (Anthony Hayes), a mercenary who’s exploiting the zombies for financial gain, and Thoomi (Simone Landers), a young aboriginal girl so devoted to her father that she’s attempting to keep him safe despite his having already turned into a zombie.
As has become standard for the genre, the filmmakers attempt to infuse their storyline with social commentary. Thus, Cargo includes not so veiled critiques of fracking and Australia’s exploitation of its aboriginal peoples. The main theme, however, is Andy’s deep feelings of love for his daughter and his desperate need to do whatever he can to protect her. His struggle proves moving at times, thanks to Freeman’s quietly intense performance and the adorableness of the young tyke (played by no less than two sets of twin infants) who induces “Awwws” whenever she’s onscreen. But the sluggish pacing and digressionary plot elements make the proceedings feel as slow as the gait employed by the film’s undead supporting characters.
Ramke’s screenplay features some clever original touches, to be sure, such as the zombies’ habit of literally burying their heads in the ground like demented ostriches. And it’s always a pleasure to see Australian film veteran David Gulpilil (Walkabout, The Last Wave, Rabbit-Proof Fence), here playing a supporting role as a village elder. But even if you haven’t seen the superior short on which it’s based, Cargo feels hopelessly padded and repetitive. Time to stick a fork in the zombie genre, it’s done.
Production companies: Addictive Pictures, Causeway Films, Headgear Films, Kreo Films FZ, Metrol Technology, White Hot Productions
Cast: Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius, Kris McQuade, Bruce R. Carter, Natasha Wanganeen, Simone Landers, David Gulpilil
Directors: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Screenwriter: Yolanda Ramke
Producers: Samantha Jennings, Kristina Ceyton, Russell Ackerman, John Schoenfelder, Mark Patterson
Executive producers: Ian Kirk, Jeff Harrison, Fergus Grady, Craig Decker, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Ian Dawson, Zak Brilliant
Director of photography: Geoffrey Simpson
Production designer: Josephine Ford
Editors: Dany Cooper, Sean Lahiff
Costume designer: Heather Wallace
Casting: Nikki Barrett, John McAlary