How it Starts
Cargo appeared silently on Netflix as a sober and serious film about Australian zombies, which immediately seemed to label it as a good, timid, Sunday home movie.
Because yes, this is a movie without splatstick or great action sequences. At times, the beautiful shots just reveal the grandeur of South Australia.
We don’t have much information about this dystopia. We meet Andy (Martin Freeman), his wife Kay (Susie Porter) and their one-year-old daughter Rosie aboard a houseboat. They live there, safe from any threat, but unfortunately, it’s time to start moving because food rations have become scarce.
Smart Casting Choices
At the same time, we meet Thoomi, an aboriginal little girl, dealing expertly with her infected father, to the point of having him controlled and fed as a pet.
And, of course, both stories will end up merging together for survival reasons.
The greatest triumph of Cargo is having Martin Freeman as the lead. Always present with a light, funny aura of comedy, he is perfect for improvisation and for the viewer to quickly connect and empathize with his charisma. Freeman surprises with a great histrionic range for the drama, giving the character a unique kind of vulnerability.
But that is not the only reason why that cast was a smart choice. The character of Andy is a good-hearted man with all the intention of protecting his family, but who does not have the tools or the expertise for that. Andy is a modern city Brit dealing with a deadly pandemic in the middle of the hostile Australian outback. The situation completely overwhelms him, more than any other person, because of the geographical context in which it is located.
And yes, at times one hates the erratic character. Beyond being a reckless hero (something anyone can identify within such a tragic context), Andy is far from being a great strategist. He doesn’t incapacitate his greatest dangers even when the opportunity is ideal. The decisions he makes are almost never the right ones. He sometimes even acts in a patronizing way. It’s frustrating to see him execute his plans halfway, accumulating more problems than solutions. But one never stops rooting for him.
And that’s exactly the character that writer and co-director Yolanda Ramke designed.
Andy represents two major issues in Cargo. The first, more universal issue, is that of paternity. Andy is a new and inexperienced father that is radically experiencing what it means to sacrifice life for your loved ones. That’s a bond that, in this case, quite literally transcends death.
The second and the most notable issue is the white man who comes to exoticize other cultures with his natural-born low-key condescending way. That is why he fails to try to do things his way. He just doesn’t understand the environment in which he finds himself. To make him an almost perfect hero would have been to make the mistake of turning the metaphor of his character into the “white savior”.
The zombie infection (or “Virals” as the director calls them) is a subtle symbology about the impact of Western civilization. In almost all cultural products, no matter how much the folklore and indigenous culture of a place is valued, there is always the undeniable affirmation that the Western way of technological and industrial progress is the only way to evolve.
Cargo reverses that narrative completely. The pandemic has completely leveled both lifestyles. The Western scientific response to the pandemic is to drop individual suicide kits for the infected. Meanwhile, the response of the Australian traditional aboriginal lifestyle is to treat the disease with respect and to promote the union and strengthening of communities to avoid infection, eliminate the threat and rebuild the future. It’s a very hard and direct comment about Australian racial history, always exoticized, reduced and converted into exotic holidays for Western society.
That’s why Ramke conducted extensive consulting with the Australian indigenous community during pre-production. In this way, Cargo avoids falling into stereotypes, showing a faithful contemporary representation of language and cultural practices.
And as for its “zombies”, Cargo offers an original and interesting twist to its creatures, with that virus that manifests itself more in the form of disgusting pus in the mucous membranes and in behavior that oscillates between hunger attacks and hibernation, where the infected seek darkness, even digging and hiding their heads underground, like an ostrich myth.
Yes, Cargo is a modest film that is not necessarily designed for the more gore spectrum enthusiasts of the genre. But its themes, its original character design, and Freeman’s performance make it a recommended viewing. For more zombie movies don't forget to check out our best of zombie films list. On it, you'll find comedy, drama, action and horror outings of the genre.
Release Year: 2017
Director(s): Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Actors: Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Natasha Wanganeen a.o.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Sam Shepards
Liz Westwood from UK on August 19, 2018:
This is an interesting review. Martin Freeman is a good actor.