Directors: Ben Howling / Yolanda Ramke
Starring: Martin Freeman, Susie Porter, Anthony Hayes, Caren Pistorius, Simone Landers
Short films aren’t always the easiest of things to adapt, partly because their stories simply work so well as a short – sometimes expectations can be exceeded (Lights Out and District 9, for example), however, and now Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s Cargo is given the feature-length treatment. IWith it’s popularity boosted by over 14 million YouTube views, (sometimes) indie saviour’s Netflix stepped up to distribute.
Boy, Australians certainly know how to craft heavy, grim movies.
After a mysterious outbreak decimates the world, survivors are few and far between. In rural Australia, Andy (Freeman), his wife Kay (Porter) and their baby Rosie endure by living on a mobile home-turned-raft and scavenging whatever they can from the waters and abandoned boats/campsites – and those in a similar position aren’t willing to lend a hand to anybody else. When things go from bad to worse, Andy must traverse the dangerous open lands in order to find help and protect his family against whatever is out there. But the clock is ticking.
Cargo is sparse on levity, pace and an ultimate message, but it’s big on performances, emotion and that sinking feeling of isolation. The adaptation from short film proved successful, but not on all counts – mainly, the length itself. This could have benefited from being about fifteen minutes shorter – not because I wanted the movie to end, necessarily, but there’s too much of nothing happening at times, and the slightly uneven storytelling doesn’t always help. In terms of said story, it’s certainly interesting, far more character driven than manic zombie death flick – horror hounds may not be ultimately satisfied, but there’s enough here with the atmosphere and sense of dread to satisfy most. Led by a tirelessly committed performance from Freeman, Cargo is for the most part extremely engaging and has some serious emotional beats. However, if gloomy, depressing and not entirely fun aren’t for you, you may not find a lot here to enjoy.
A long way from Tim Canterbury and The Office, Freeman delivers an earnest, complex performance as the exasperated father just trying to survive for his family. The supporting players are all extremely solid, and Anthony Hayes has the right amount of Mick Taylor about him to keep him fairly terrifying as the unhinged Vic. Babies Lily Anne McPherson-Dobbins and Marlee Jane McPherson-Dobbins are ridiculously adorable as Rosie, who never feels like a cheap, manipulative tool within the movie. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the performances here.
Similarly, the cinematography from Geoffrey Simpson is off the charts. The Australian plains are captured in all of their beauty, vastness and remoteness whether sweltering in the pounding sun or under a blanket of stars – there are so many great shots within the movie that it’s a joy to watch.
Where things falter is the pace and duration. At no point did I want to movie to end, per se, but as the middle act stretches on and on, it becomes apparent that the movie is dragging. A sharper edit would solve the majority of the pacing issues and probably present a tighter, more effective movie. I understand the need to show the utter hopelessness or despair of the situation, but the movie was doing a good enough job without needing to hammer it home. Zombie nasties aren’t given the spotlight in Cargo, they’re there, absolutely, but more as a lurking threat rather than an all-out issue – they become background characters in a movie about zombies, which isn’t a bad thing in this instance. The underlying themes throughout are highlighting the good that humans possess, even in the darkest of hours (though some have a different take on ‘good’) and the obvious lengths people will go to protect their loved ones. To be honest, the former isn’t really fleshed out all that well but the wonderful relationship between Andy and baby Rosie was touching and emotional (I’m not crying, you are).
Also, it’s always warming to see that even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, a cup of tea is seen as the antidote in the quieter moments.
As Australian movies go, Cargo isn’t as vicious as Killing Ground, The Loved Ones or Wolf Creek, but it’s a far better character study and carries greater emotional heft. It’s grim, bleak and not always enjoyable, but Cargo is a very solid outing – the type Netflix really needs to push harder.
June 4th 2018