Just when you think you’ve seen quite enough zombie movies for one lifetime, along comes A Quiet Place. And no sooner have you said, ‘okay, great stuff, but that really is enough now,’ than this film appears ready-to-stream on Netflix and you find yourself thinking, ‘You know what? Maybe there is room for just one more.’
Despite a depressingly over-familiar premise, Cargo succeeds largely by putting a new twist on the old ‘Apocalyptic epidemic of the undead’ scenario and by casting Tim from The Office in the lead role. He’s frankly nobody’s idea of an action hero and, somehow, that really works in the film’s favour. We care about him before he’s said so much as a word.
We are in the Australian outback and ex-pat Andy (Martin Freeman) and his Aussie wife, Kay (Susie Porter), are puttering along a river in their spacious houseboat, with their baby daughter, Rosie, at their side. But this is no holiday cruise. The couple are staying well away from the river banks which are now infested with cannibalistic zombies (yes, I know, but bear with me). Of course, the constant search for food means that they do have to take some chances occasionally and, when Andy spots a wrecked yacht up ahead, he knows they’ll have to row across to it and investigate. The yacht provides some much-needed rations, but also something rather less welcome – a bite from one of the ‘infected.’ In this world, people in such a predicament are provided with a special medical kit which includes a handy sort of ‘illness tracker.’ This gives the victim a 48 hour countdown to their own doom – and, for those who can’t handle it, the manufacturers have thoughtfully included a lethal injection. The problem is that Andy and Kay’s main priority is Rosie and they soon realise that they need to get her to safety before they succumb to their own impending bloodlust.
Meanwhile, on shore, eleven-year-old aboriginal girl, Thoomy (Simone Landers), is trying to come to terms with the fact that her father, Willie (Bruce R. Carter), is himself rapidly succumbing to the same infection. She has come up with her own unusual methods of keeping him under control…
Writer/directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke have fleshed out their 2013 short of the same title and have managed to create something which, against all the odds, feels fresh and gripping. I love the fact that the zombies themselves are not given centre stage in this film. Indeed, for the first half of it we barely glimpse them; they remain a terrifying offscreen presence – but we are aware at all times of the possibility of their imminent arrival. (Zombie purists might like to know that these creatures are of the George Romero persuasion – i.e. slow and shambling, rather than their more recent fleet-footed iterations).
What Cargo has in abundance is suspense, which ramps steadily up from the opening scenes and at various points has me shouting ‘don’t go in there!’ at the screen. But of course, people do go in there, repeatedly, which works brilliantly. I love the fact that the film incorporates aboriginal mythology and shows the native Australians to be the ones who clearly know how best to handle the zombie situation (there’s a clear colonial allegory here). Also, the ‘48 hours to doom’ scenario lends the proceedings a breathless, race against time quality that keeps me hooked throughout.
You’d think, that with such a doomed and downbeat premise, it would be impossible to pull a feelgood ending out of the bag and yet, somehow, they’ve kind of managed that too.
So, yes, good stuff… but… that really is enough zombie movies now.