Directors: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Writer: Yolanda Ramke
Starring: Martin Freeman, Simone Landers, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter
Cargo bravely takes a bite out of a sprawling sub-genre and spits out an inventive and moving adaptation.
The zombie genre is possibly one of the most extensively explored themes in global cinema, and so bringing anything new to this particularly large table is an immediate challenge. Fortunately, directors Howling and Ramke have traversed this obstacle fairly well with Cargo - a modern post-apocalyptic zombie thriller which brings plenty of ingenuity to the table, cleverly adapting and reshaping iconic zombie-movie tropes while also inventing entirely new ones.
Based on the 2013 short film of the same name, Cargo is the story of a father's trek through the Australian outback in search of a safe haven for his infant daughter in the midst of a mysterious catastrophe, helped in this by a young Aborigine girl. We arrive in this strange new world via a fantastic sweeping landscape shot of the expansive Australian desert, before the camera settles on a lonely boat drifting along a murky river. The realities of this hostile place are swiftly spelt out with some subtle gestures, the film wisely refusing to spoil the climate with any distracting context or over-explaining. The film tells you everything you need to know; something awful has happened, every family for themselves. The rest of the pieces slowly move into view as the film progresses, but there is still room left for the viewer's imagination to fill the empty spaces - a rare phenomenon for modern cinema.
Throughout the film, we see a brutal world, but it is a brutal world depicted delicately. This zombie thriller is not as despairing as other similar post-apocalyptic pieces, at times feeling more like a tender drama than a thriller. Set after the devastation as opposed to during, Cargo doesn't possess a panicked or skittish aura. Instead, it feels settled and steady, symbolising the characters' acceptance of their new lives, rather than a desire to outrun it. This less aggressive approach may seem odd considering the subject matter, but it has allowed Cargo to capture the horror of the situation through the eyes of its characters, and to explore themes of love, desperation and loss - moments of profound tenderness, particularly towards the film's end, will hearten and devastate simultaneously.
Martin Freeman shines as the desperate but defiant father, determined to protect his young daughter to the very end, while Simone Landers hits the ground running, submitting a solid performance in her debut film role. She and Freeman sync perfectly as they battle their way through the barren Australian outback, forming a formidable bond which powers them towards the film's conclusion. Susie Porter gives a brilliant performance as Freeman's on-screen wife, and Anthony Hayes does a great job of embodying the long-standing issues of racism in Australia. It is a small but capable cast, who effectively bring to life the horrors of life after the apocalypse.
Cargo is by no means outstanding, but is a wonderfully moving look at the value of friendship in an extremely hostile world, and its atypical approach to a topic normally rooted in horror is an immediate hook. With a modest but committed cast and an intriguing cinematic landscape, Cargo forms a refreshing post-apocalyptic zombie flick.
In one line: Gentle, but by no means soft, Cargo tells the story of defiance in the face of inevitability and offers a different lens through which to view an age-old Hollywood banker.