Cargo (2017)


Australia. 2017.


Directors – Ben Howling & Yolanda Ramke, Screenplay – Yolanda Ramke, Producers – Russell Ackerman, Kristina Ceyton, Samantha Jennings, Mark Patterson & John Schoenfelder, Photography – Geoffrey Simpson, Music – Michael Hohnen, Daniel Rankine P.K.A Trials, Dr G. Yunupingu & Johnathon Mangarri Yunupingu, Visual Effects – Goodman Brothers (Supervisors – Elliot Goodman & Joel Goodman) & The Gingerbread Man (Supervisor – Craig Deeker), Special Effects Supervisor – Tom Forrest, Prosthetics Design – Larry Van Duynhoven, Production Design – Jo Ford. Production Company – Screen Australia/South Australian Film Corporation/Create NSW/Adelaide Film Festival/Head Gear Films/Metrol Technology/White Hot Productions/Addictive Pictures/Causeway Films.


Martin Freeman (Andy), Simone Landers (Thoomi), Susie Porter (Kay), Anthony Hayes (Vic), Caren Pistorius (Lorraine), Lily Anne McPherson-Dobbins, Marlee Jane McPherson-Dobbins, Finlay Sjoberg & Nova Sjoberg (Rosie), Kris McQuade (Etta), Bruce R. Carter (Willie), Natasha Wanganeen (Josie), David Gulpilil (Clever Man)


A zombie plague has swept Australia. Andy, his wife Kay and their infant daughter Rosie have escaped from the city in a riverboat, hoping to find somewhere unaffected. Low on supplies, Andy ventures into a stranded yacht. While he lies down for a nap on his return, Kay goes over to the yacht for more supplies, only to be bitten by a lurking zombie. She places on a government-issued wrist timer that counts down the 48 hours that she has until the infection takes hold. They abandon the boat, setting out in a vehicle to find the nearest hospital. However, one of the infected on the road causes them to crash. Kay succumbs, not before she bites and infects Andy and he is forced to kill her. With his 48 hours ticking away, Andy sets out trying to find someone to take care of Rosie. A woman in a nearby community recommends he find the local Aborigine settlement, the one group who have survived the plague. As Andy sets out, his journey is beset by the infected everywhere and Vic, another survivor who is determined to hoard resources for when the plague is over. The journey requires Andy befriend Thoomi, a young Aborigine girl.

Not to be confused with the earlier space station-based film Cargo (2009), this is a zombie film. It is a feature-length debut for Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke who had previously made the basis of this with the seven-minute short film Cargo (2013). This proved a viral sensation and the two were given funding to expand the short as a feature-length film.

The zombie film has been on the rise since hits in the early 2000s such as Resident Evil (2002), 28 Days Later (2002), Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Shaun of the Dead (2004). In recent years, this has given all evidence of running out of ideas due to the sheer proliferation of entries in the genre, resulted in the deliberately ridiculous gonzo title mash-up that has run all the way from Zombie Strippers! (2008) to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016). (For a more detailed overview of the genre see Zombie Films).

At face value, Cargo resembles less a zombie film and more a work like Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1970) about two white schoolchildren lost in the Australian Outback who are aided by an Aborigine. (Confirming the source of inspiration, David Gulpilil who played the role of the Aborigine in Walkabout also turns up as the tribal elder in the final scenes here). Equally you could slot Cargo into the company of Australian films over recent years such as These Final Hours (2013) and The Rover (2014), which take place across the great Australian landscape with a collapsing society as a backdrop.

Martin Freeman and daughter in the Australian Outback

Cargo joins a few recent zombie films that are trying to be more than zombie films. Recent examples would include the quite remarkable and original The Girl With All the Gifts (2016); Here Alone (2016), which seemed more like a wilderness survival drama in the aftermath of social collapse and was some way in before revealing itself as a zombie film; and the unique Irish-made The Cured (2017) concerning the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. Cargo likewise is at its very essence a zombie film but also one that never mentions the word ‘zombie’ once throughout.

The initial scenes dance around telling us what is going on. We are engaged in Martin Freeman and Susie Porter’s journey down the river and the suggestions of some type of plague, the urgency of their low supplies and images that hint at something dire as they pass a family on the riverbank and the father produces a gun to warn them off. Even when Susie Porter is attacked, we never see what happens aboard the yacht, only ominous movings of the internal door before the scene cuts to her having returned bleeding from a bite.

Thereafter we start to get more hints but this is turned on its head when, not far into the film, lead Martin Freeman, the only recognisable name present, is bitten. Having the lead actor infected less than a third into the show is such a radical breaking of expectation in a zombie film, you don’t know where things are heading next.

Young Aborigine girl Simone Landers

Thereafter, the film becomes more of a picaresque than it does a zombie film. There is not the ferocious battle for survival that we get in other zombie films. The most the film approaches this is the scenes where we meet Anthony Hayes who you suspect would readily have joined the redneck deputies having fun shooting zombies at the end of Night of the Living Dead (1968) or perhaps even more so the posse with the barbecue at the end of the remake Night of the Living Dead (1990).

The most suspense driven scenes are the ones where Martin Freeman and Simone Landers are chained together by Hayes in a cage as the zombies surround it. Mostly the latter scenes are focused on the trust and friendship between Freeman and young Aborigine girl Simone Landers. These scenes are conducted with an uncommon sensitivity, reaching an ending that ends up being quite emotionally affecting.

Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke subsequently went on to direct episodes of The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020).

Trailer here

Original short film here:-

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