Film review: ‘CARGO’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Cargo is an Australian post-apocalyptic zombie film and while that concept might elicit groans from some people Cargo doesn’t always subscribe to horror convention and instead transforms a familiar scenario into a potent human drama reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and confronting allegory of Australia’s racially divided landscape.

The film sees husband and wife Andy (Martin freeman) and Kay (Susie porter) and their baby daughter Rosie eking out an existence on a river houseboat unable to set foot on land as it’s infested with flesh-eating zombies. When survival needs compel them to venture on shore, they’re forced to confront monsters both undead and living.

Director’s Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke have apparently approached this film with the question ‘what would a realistic zombie film look like?’. Consequently, they’ve opted for a naturalistic look with an outdoor setting in what seems to be the Victorian Riverina (captured wonderfully by veteran cinematography Geoffrey Simpson), use of natural light and almost complete absence of CGI. Combined with its fairly leisurely pacing, the film recalls Aussie movies of the 1970’s but with a little more sensitivity than the Ausploitation flicks of that era. Cargo also benefits from its use of atmospheric music.

This film is an attempt to reassess the horror and particularly zombie genre with the z word never mentioned and little if any gizzard chomping. There is violence a few gruesome injuries but the horrors relate more to human behaviour than anything visceral. The most disturbing image involves the way a red neck survivalist treats members of the local indigenous population, something that has extremely unsettling implications for Australia’s colonial history and it’s present. The film portrays Australia as a divided world in which people literally have their head in the sand and where embracing the old ways of the traditional owners provides some hope.

The film intelligently balances horror with social commentary although it could have done with a little more intensity and energy at times.

Freeman is always an engaging screen presence even if he tends to play fuss-pots and he makes for a moving ‘everyman’ here. Anthony Hayes, who often plays nasty Aussie blokes, is an imposing figure here as the white hunter Vic. Film legend David Gulpilil also appears as a character named Daku or the Clever Man and he is typically mesmerising but his character needed more screen time.

As a film about families struggling to survive in a brutal post-apocalyptic world, Cargo makes an interesting companion piece to John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place a film that had a little more of the intensity needed here. For all it’s flaws though, Cargo is still an impressive piece of local filmmaking.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Horror/ Australian film.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling.

Release date: 17th May 2018.

Running time: 105 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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