From the producers of Jennifer Kent’s critically acclaimed 2014 Australian horror The Babadook comes a fantastically well devised, gripping and hugely compelling post-apocalyptic movie with a difference. Displaying strong indie credentials from the get go, Cargo presents a bleak and harrowing vision of a future dominated by a violent pandemic which turns anyone infected into a rabid flesh-eating zombie. Staring Martin Freeman as desperate man in a race against time to save his child from a gruesome fate, the film plays with the usual zombie movie tropes all the while providing a rich and dense story of human resilience in the face of unmitigated violence and utter despair.
Adapted by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke from their 2013 short film of the same name, Cargo tells the story of a Andy (Martin Freeman), a father stranded in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in rural Australia with his infant daughter. When he becomes infected with the virus which claimed his wife a few hours earlier, Andy has 48 hours to find someone to take care of the child before it’s too late.
Armed with a limited amount of supplies and a wrist-watch which is slowly counting down to the moment when the infection is likely to take hold of him, Andy decides to go searching for help for the sake of his daughter. Enter Vic (Anthony Hayes), a resourceful local man who offers the desperate father a lift and somewhere safe to stay in exchange of a few favours. Back at the makeshift hideout he’d been sharing with a timid young woman named Lorraine (Caren Pistorius), Vic soon starts to display a rather unnerving and violent streak towards his new guest, which eventually results in a showdown between the two men.
Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke present a brilliantly well observed study of human behaviour under the worst circumstances. As in many post-apocalyptic narratives, Cargo is less concerned with the intricacies of the story itself, than it is with outlining a series of cleverly well thought-out ideas about what it means to be human even in the bleakest of times. Elevated by Geoffrey Simpson’s awe-inspiring cinematography and its depiction of the Australian Outback in all its arid beauty, Cargo is able to present a real alternative to the usual urban chaos offered by the majority of post-apocalyptic narratives.
Freeman puts in a respectable performance as a man determined not to lose his humanity no matter what happens, while Hayes is equally impressive as Vic. Elsewhere, young Aboriginal actress Simone Landers does a fantastic job as Thoomi, a young girl who finds solace from her own loss by helping a desperate father in his quest.
On the whole, Cargo manages to surprise by devising a compelling storyline packed full of allegories and symbolism and is less concerned with superfluous action tropes and classical zombie scares. With a commendably sparse dialogue and some really strong performances, the film succeeds in keeping you hooked till the very end, and is ultimately able to deliver on its high concept premise despite some minor pace issues.
Cargo will be airing on Netflix from Friday 18th of May.