Cargo

APOCALYPSE NOW!

Main Cast: Martin Freeman, Simone Landers

Directors: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke

My flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta was relatively uneventful. I practiced my scales all the way up to a C7 in first class before being asked to refrain by the flight crew as my higher frequencies were somehow interfering with the radar and far be it from me to place my fellow passengers in danger; so I settled in to my Blackglama mink and signed a few autographs for my fellow passengers before limbering up my legs somewhere over Amarillo with an impromptu tap routine in the aisle. I tried to get the rest of first class to join me in a conga line, but I was unsuccessful other than a rather drunk business executive who kept putting his hands a bit lower than my shoulders.

When I landed in Atlanta and asked about my connecting flight, I was rather disappointed to find out that it was only taking me as far as Birmingham, a mere hop skip and a jump. I had hoped to be going somewhere a bit more exciting on the eastern seaboard. I really should have checked out where this production of Cabaret was happening before signing on the dotted line. I therefore finally called Joseph, my manager, and asked him about my final destination only to find out I was bound for the Bug Tussle Alabama Civic Light Opera. A quick google of Bug Tussle showed me a wide spot in the road about an hour north of the city so I boarded my next flight with some trepidation, hoping that all forty seven pieces of my Louis Vuitton travel luggage would make the flight as rerouting a lost bag to someplace called Bug Tussle might take some doing.

duct tape moving PD
Necessity is the mother of invention!

I arrived in Birmingham without incident to find Melissa, my driver, waiting for me, not with a luxury limousine like I am used to, but rather with a Prius hatchback. It took some doing and a lot of bungee cord to attach the luggage in a safe manner to the rack, but we finally were on our way north on I-65, only having to stop twice to retrieve pieces that came off when we were struck by high winds. I nestled in the backseat with my iPad and dialed up Netflix to pass the time. Scrolling through the selections, I settled on Cargo, a small little Australian film from 2017 starring Martin Freeman. I had never heard of it and, thinking I might pick up a tip or two on better securing my luggage, settled in for a viewing.

Cargo is an entry in the zombie apocalypse subgenre of storytelling, fueled by the success of The Walking Dead on television and in graphic novel format and World War Z as a novel and film with detours along the way such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in which the zombie apocalypse was reset as a Regency comedy of manners. This time, we’re in Australia and on a limited budget. This makes directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke (working from Ms. Ramke’s screenplay) have to keep most of the mayhem off screen. This will disappoint viewers who expect ravening hordes but actually works to the film’s benefit as it keeps the filmmakers from revealing too much too soon and allows us to use our intelligence and imagination to fill in the gaps. The basic mistake in most horror film making is showing too much. The minute we see excess gore, we distance ourselves psychologically. When we don’t see it, we conjure up scenarios far worse than the screenwriter and director could ever portray.

Martin Freeman, of The Hobbit and Sherlock fame plays Andy. He and his wife (Susie Porter) are traveling with their young daughter on a houseboat up a lazy Australian outback river. We can tell from clues in their conversation, the reactions of the one other family they meet, and some not so helpful government pamphlets that are shown, that something very bad has happened to most of the population. Food is in short supply, but the little family is trying to stay safe and secure together. When mama gets bitten by an unseen danger while scavenging for supplies on a half sunken boat, she begins to change in unpleasant ways. Andy tries to race her to a hospital but a man wandering in the middle of the road causes him to crash and things get even worse. Andy takes his child, desperate to find her a place of safety and runs into an aboriginal child (Simone Landers), a survivalist minded miner (Anthony Hayes) and his partner (Caren Pistorius). Their lives all become entwined in unexpected ways as Andy races the clock and the dangers of disease and those stricken with it to find a modicum of safety for his child. The ending of Cargo, while not happy, is satisfying, suggesting that those closest to the land and with the most understanding of the rhythms of nature will be the ones able to carry on.

The slightly exotic landscape of rural Australia gives Cargo a unique look and feel, differentiating it from most of the other films of its type. It feels right as an empty landscape, but full of hidden dangers and things that you don’t quite see out of the corner of your eye which could easily kill you. The directors make good use of the locations and cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson gives the whole proceeding a feel of foreboding and unease throughout. As stated before, the small budget works to advantage, not allowing the filmmakers to fill the screen with hordes of extras or focusing gratuitously on gore or gross transformations. These are very human zombies that we can easily see arising out of the viral illnesses we know plague our species in isolated and exotic locales. Deaths occur, but in a banal and ordinary fashion. Not with body parts flying and rivers of blood.

Martin Freeman gives a greatish performance in the lead role, striking a balance between a family man devoted to wife and daughter and avenging angel determined to do whatever is necessary to make sure his daughter can survive. There is also nice work from the young Miss Landers as the aboriginal girl Thoomi who in some ways acts as a moral compass for the proceedings. She is joined by David Gulpilil, the grand old aboriginal man of Australian cinema since Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout nearly fifty years ago as the shaman of her people. He always brings a quiet dignity to his performances and his presence helps cement Cargo in the Australian canon of films done better and cheaper than their Hollywood models.

While the film is practically unknown in the US, Cargo is worth seeking out for decent performances, a reasonable script with some unexpected twists and turns, and seeing a few zombie film tropes neatly turned inside out. There are certainly worse ways to spend a couple of hours of an evening.

Yellow slime secretions. Useless government emergency kits. Interrupted birthday. Sacrificed family. Caged people. Raw meat on a string. Clever man. Gratuitous railroad tunnel. Trapped leg.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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