I feel duty bound to draw your attention to CARGO, a top-notch zombie movie which premiered on Netflix this last week. I’ve had my eye on this one for a long time, primarily because of its source material. The film’s based on a stunning short movie which took the zombie-loving world by storm back in 2013. You can watch it here, and I recommend you do. No worries about spoiling the feature length version, because they’re two very different beasts as I’ll explain.
Here’s a synopsis, courtesy of IMDB:
In a desperate bid to outrun a violent pandemic, Andy and Kay have holed up on a houseboat with their one-year-old daughter, Rosie. Their protected river existence is shattered by a violent attack, which sees Kay tragically die and Andy infected. Left with only 48 hours before he transforms into one of the creatures they have fought so long to evade, Andy sets out on a precarious journey to find a new guardian for his child. A flourishing Aboriginal tribe are Rosie’s best chance of survival – but with their merciless attitude toward the afflicted, they also pose a grave threat. A young Indigenous girl becomes Andy’s only chance of safe passage into this sacred community. But unfortunately the girl has no desire to return to her people – she is on a quest to cure her own infected father by returning his stolen soul. Each in their own way is seeking salvation… but they will need to work together if they hope to achieve it.
I absolutely loved the original CARGO short. It spoke volumes telling a relatively wordless story. It was smart, very well made, original and heartfelt. When I heard it was going to be expanded to feature length, I had reservations. My concerns were calmed when I heard that the original writing and directing team of BEN HOWLING and YOLANDA RAMKE were helming the new version, and also when MARTIN FREEMAN was cast. I still hold THE OFFICE as the best of Freeman’s performances to date, and I thought if he could bring the same laid back vulnerability to the role here, we could be onto a winner. In my opinion, he nails it.
I mentioned earlier that the CARGO short and feature are very different. Whilst the central concept is largely the same, the variations are inevitable. You can’t extend a 7 minute story to 104 minutes without adding a lot of content. I really started to consider the effects of story length when I wrote THE COST OF LIVING (several times). It started off as a 5k word short, then morphed into a piece of flash fiction, but it only really came into its own when I wrote it as a 40k word novella. You can judge for yourself which version you prefer because they’re all available to read here, but to my mind the story only really hit its stride with the novella version. I think CARGO suits the short film format best, but there’s a huge amount to admire in the longer film.
At times the extended story threatens to veer towards a reliance on various overused zombie tropes to keep itself going (in fact, the attack which sets the plot in motion is driven by a particularly dumb character decision), however the originality of the central conceit, the performances, and the sure-handed direction keep the movie moving well. The cinematography makes the most of Australia’s vast beauty and remoteness, with the glorious scenery almost becoming a character in its own right. It reminded me a little of THE ROVER, another post-apocalyptic film you should check out. A special mention must also be made of the infected. We’ve seen endless variations of the living dead and we’re becoming hardened to blood and guts and dismembered body parts. The creatures here, though, are something else. Their physicality is unsettling, bordering on surreal, and because they’re not given too much screen time, their impact when they do appear is increased.
This is a smart and very well made movie, which stands alongside – not in place of – its source material. As it appears to be on NETFLIX in most territories around the world, I’d like to propose you get off this website and go watch it. Then watch the short. Both are highly recommended.