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CARGO (2018) review

June 3, 2018

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written by: Yolanda Ramke
produced by: Russell Ackerman, Kristina Ceyton, Samantha Jennings, Mark Patterson, and John Schoenfelder
directed by: Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke
rated: unrated (features lots of profanity and a decent amount of violence)
runtime: 105 min.
U.S. release date: May 18, 2018 (Exclusively on Netflix)

 

“Hey mate, just take the two… for her sake.”

 

Some actors seem content to coast on the goodwill you have toward them thanks to a handful of good performances. Martin Freeman seems like one of those actors who should be in that phase of his career, yet he consistently impresses by taking risks. He could very easily slip into a pattern of playing the put-upon nice guy, but he’s more interested lately in subverting that and allowing the audience to feel a tad uneasy in close quarters with him.

However, Freeman is in full-on pathos mode in the new film “Cargo,” playing father to a toddler trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. As Andy, Freeman is gifted with one of his best roles, desperately looking for someone to trust and often finding that trust betrayed. The film is set, post-zombie outbreak, in the Australian wilderness, conjuring memories of Nicolas Roeg’s “Walkabout”—finding Andy, his wife Kay (Susie Porter), and baby daughter Rosie low on supplies aboard their houseboat.

 

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Forced to gather supplies from the mainland, Andy soon finds things going from bad to worse, ending up on foot with Rosie in tow. The film brilliantly establishes a timetable for Andy to successfully complete his journey, thanks to some fancy expositional footwork in the first act. In other words, it doesn’t take long to realize that his situation has gotten much worse, and the film only ratchets up the tension from there.

Additionally, the film morphs once more when Andy hits the road and meets up with Thoomi (Simone Landers), an aboriginal girl caring for her infected father Willie (Bruce R. Carter). This combined with an encounter with Vic (Anthony Hayes), a hunter who harbors some dark secrets, very pointedly indicate the film’s allegorical undertones. Most films would be content to coast on the inherent suspense contained in the first act set-up, but there’s an additional life lesson in store for Andy, and by default, the audience.

“Cargo” was based on a seven minute short film from the same writer and directors as the feature, and expanded to feature length it falls into many of the same traps as other lengthened shorts. The expansion of the story, however, does allow for some rather nice bits of allegory that would’ve been impossible in its original incarnation. Writer Yolanda Ramke co-directs the film alongside Ben Howling, both working for this first time in this capacity on a feature.

 

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The pair do mostly solid work, though they falter a bit when spending too much time establishing their locations. There’s a bit of Australian wilderness porn in the early-goings, though that fades as their focus narrows. Still, it sometimes feels like they’re vamping for time, desperate to make sure that their ideas reach feature length, rather than organically finding a way through the narrative thicket.

As I said earlier, Freeman is outstanding in this film, playing a man who knows that he’s quickly running out of time and becoming desperate to trust anyone he can. It’s a role that relies on your inherent trust of him as a guy who’ll do the right thing in the end, and he mines that pathos to great effect.

“Cargo” is a film that isn’t afraid to tighten the screws just when you think they’re as tight as they can get. Sometimes that’s a great thing, sometimes it’s just all a bit too much to handle. While the film doesn’t always strike the right balance in that regard, its central performance from Freeman—combined with the uniformly fantastic supporting cast, made up mostly of great Australian character actors—helps to elevate it in perhaps the most crowded subgenre in horror. We didn’t really need another zombie film, but you can’t help but admire one that’s pointedly doing something different with the conceit.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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