Cargo movie review: Steering clear of genre clichés makes this zombie film a dazzling experience
Those willing to venture off the beaten zombie blockbuster path will find Cargo a dazzling, intellectually stimulating and also an emotionally rewarding film.
Since the early 2000s, the zombie genre has well and truly been juiced to the extreme – from dark horror to satirical comedies to post apocalyptic CGI-fests and even TV shows. The new Aussie film Cargo – with its dystopian zombie setting may seem like a run of the mill story but constantly offers moments you least expect, and an emotional core you may not be able to stomach if you happen to be a sensitive person. It’s fascinating, and even if morbidly so, quite beautiful.
Co-directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, Cargo is based on the wildly popular YouTube short film of the same name, and works surprisingly well as a feature-length film thanks to Ramke’s writing that turns it into a perceptive expansion of a good idea. The story follows Andy (Martin Freeman, in his best performance to date), a man navigating through a zombie apocalypse with his wife (Susie Porter) and his young child. Things naturally fall apart fairly quickly and Andy is left to his own devices, his baby attached to his backpack as he tries to dodge the undead as well as those desperately scrambling to survive.
What sets Cargo apart from the rest of the genre clichés is the grain of the film – this is not just a survival thriller but also a film about time and textures, its visual elements as vivid as its aural scheme. Cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson captures the visceral experience of surviving zombieland in all its physicality, despite shooting on a tight budget with not many visuals of the monsters themselves. And like in many modern horror movies Cargo dabbles into themes of humans being as dangerous, if not far more so than the monsters lurking in the shadows. Flitting between dreamy camerawork and a sense of doom, the filmmakers often turn the film into a meditative mood enhancer allowing the viewer to the step right into Andy’s shoes as he struggles to take his child to safety. The low key execution is quite experimental given the mainstream-ness of the setting and the experience feels like minimalist filmmaking at its finest.
There are plenty of moments that stand out, one particular subplot involving aboriginals rediscovering the barren Australian landscape and retaking it from the white man has an array of stunning images. The social commentary is not exactly subtle but positioned at precisely the right moments to be impactful. The genre as such was always intended to wring out political statements with zombies being a metaphor for the human condition in the modern world, and the filmmakers do well with updating what George Romero triggered with Night of the Living Dead back in the 60s.
The dramatic moments have a few things in common with the 2013 Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie drama Maggie, particularly the father-daughter dynamic, although the execution is more polished in this film, and Freeman’s incredible heft for emotion carries you through moments that would otherwise seem mundane. There are shades of John Hillcoat’s The Road as well, mainly in the arc of a mysterious man (Anthony Hayes) holding a woman captive in a post-apocalyptic power dynamic, as well as in the character of a little girl from an indigenous tribe named Thoomie (Simone Landers) who seems to have discovered a way to deal with the outbreak. Verisimilitude takes a backseat every time Thoomie appears on screen, the desert landscape transforming into an increasingly primal and hostile environment that was always meant to be in the possession of the aboriginals.
Those willing to venture off the beaten zombie blockbuster path will find Cargo a dazzling, intellectually stimulating and also an emotionally rewarding film. It’s an unusually artistic experiment in an otherwise familiar canvas that innovates when you expect it to haul clichés; and it’s a huge calling card for the young filmmakers behind it. Moreover it’s a worthy addition to the Netflix catalogue, further cementing the right direction that the company is going in and the bold choices they are making with movies like this one.
Cargo is currently streaming on Netflix India
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