Cargo is an Australian zombie drama which adapts a 2013 Tropfest finalist short, both of which were directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, and written by Ramke. The post-apocalyptic tale is set in rural Australia, as we follow Andy, played by the very British Martin Freeman. Freeman, whose Australian accent disappears and reappears scene to scene, is husband to Kay (Susie Porter).
The couple’s baby daughter, Rosie, becomes the sole purpose of survival for Andy, when his wife becomes stricken with the zombie-fying disease that turns her face into an oozing honeypot.
The feature debut from Howling and Ramke is a visually striking display of powerful imagery, encompassing the vastness of Australia’s outback while creating shockingly-disturbing zombie designs.
The stumbling block for the film, however, is in its inherent creation. Orginally, Cargo was a finalist in the Tropfest 2013 film festival. Adapting a short film into a feature isn’t impossible, in fact Whiplash and Australian horror film, The Babadook, proves the ability for those films to become successful.
However, in Cargo’s case, the seven minutes of the short film seem to be stretched and padded to fill its 105 minute running length. Its attempts in developing a greater array of characters weakens the driving narrative of Andy’s solitude, and his need to find someone to take care of his child before he turns into a zombie.
The film’s saving graces come from the performance of Martin Freeman, whose warmth and humour is engaging for the entire film, and the parallels drawn between the zombie apocalypse and the treatment of Aboriginals by European settlers. This strong and compelling concept is explored well in the middle section of the film.
Cargo is a different kind of zombie film. It comes with great emotional depth and powerful visual imagery. But Martin Freeman’s performance, while captivating, cannot stop the film from becoming an only half-watchable picture. The film’s padding and lack of coherent narrative drive is a shame as Cargo holds the weight of a great short film but fails to deliver the goods in feature.
Cargo is currently showing in cinemas around Sydney until the end of this month. As it is Netflix production, expect to see it there before too long.
Author: Alan Fang