George Romero

Cargo

04/06/18

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.

Isn’t it?

4.3 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Train to Busan

31/10/16

Zombie movies are a bit like buses: you wait for what seems like ages for a decent one and then two crackers come along at pretty much the same time. No sooner are we over extolling the genre-busting virtues of The Girl With All The Gifts, than Train to Busan comes thundering down the track. We’ve all heard of Snakes on a Plane, but Zombies on a train? One look at the trailer was enough to convince us that this should be our Halloween movie of choice.

South Korean writer/director Sang-ho Yeon is in the driver’s seat of this adrenalin-fuelled delight, which eschews the slow-witted lumbering zombies of George Romero and substitutes them for some hot-footed, rabid berserkers that would leave the crowd from 28 Days Later standing on the platform. They are everywhere in this film – tumbling through glass doors, raining down out of the sky and, at one point, forming an inhuman chain clinging tenaciously onto the back of a locomotive. It’s fast, it’s frantic and, above all, it’s fun to watch.

Our hero is Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) a wealthy fund manager who, from the very outset, presents as a man who looks after his own best interests. When he is obliged to (very reluctantly) escort his young daughter, Soo-an (the adorable Soo-an Kim) to Busan to rendezvous with her mother – from whom Seok Woo is separated – he expects nothing more than an uneventful journey. But there’s a barely glimpsed ‘incident’ at the station where the train starts from and an injured woman stumbles aboard and locks herself in the toilet. When she emerges, she is one of the undead and she quickly sets about biting everyone she encounters. This is a disease that travels like wildfire and, within minutes, the train is full of unwelcome travellers.  Seok Woo and a band of fellow passengers will have to use every trick they can think of if they hope to survive to the end of the line…

Like most zombie movies, this is more than it might at first appear. The train is a great big metaphor for humanity and it quickly becomes apparent that the most dastardly travellers on board are the ones who care only about themselves. Chief among them is Yong-Suk (Eui-sung Kim) a man who thinks nothing of flinging a helpless teenage girl to the ravening hordes in order to cause a diversion to escape their clutches. Time and again, the nice people (the socialists) are seen sacrificing themselves in order to help others. The question is, which side will Seok Woo end up on?

Don’t worry – this doesn’t feel anything like a lecture. While you could argue that Train to Busan isn’t particularly scary, it makes up for that shortfall by ramping events up to almost unbearable levels of suspense, utilising some incredible set pieces along the way. This is quite simply a cinematic thrill ride, one that grips like a vice all the way to its (heartbreaking) conclusion.

Don’t miss out. Book your ticket to ride before this one pulls out of the platform and disappears over the horizon.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney