Director: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Screenplay: Yolanda Ramke
Starring: Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Simone Landers
Runtime: 105 Minutes
It’s a nice experience when you see something where the general concept of a zombie apocalypse movie is used to portray something that’s distinctly more human and interesting regarding its characters, setting and world. The Girl with All the Gifts pulled this trick by using its basis as an exploration of supplanted generations and the fear of the unknown capabilities of children, and Cargo takes a similar approach to the worn subgenre by using to dwell on the survival aspects, the significance of parenthood, but also using its setting of rural Australia in an interesting way other than a desolate landscape.
Adapted from the short film of the same name, we follow Andy (Martin Freeman) as he faces the dire challenge of finding someone to care for his infant daughter following the death of his wife Kay (Susie Porter) and his own infection with the world ravaging plague. Freeman isn’t usually seen in these kinds of straight dramatic roles, but he’s very good here and conveys the same subtle expressions and pained gestures of uncertainty seen in his other work.
But in parallel to this well-drawn story, we see the stamped out native culture finding a resurgence in a world where the white man no longer has charge. Details build around the routines and belief systems of a small tribe, through the eyes of young Thoomi (Simone Landers). Her and Andy’s paths eventually align and tie into one another, as they face the lawless anger and mistreatment of her people at the hands of the allegedly civilised people left behind – and while it doesn’t quite engage with it as well as it could, its refreshing to see such perspective and respect paid to a stamped out culture of the outback.
Directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke play things lowkey and dour, by focusing their gaze on its figures against huge backdrops in moments of expansive travel but keeping things tight for the dramatic beats. Its more a succession of events than a journey, as Andy stumbles between places and people in desperation, but it’s kept engaging through a surprising opening act and a stern control of its tone under limited circumstances.
Much like The Road, this is a dour experience where everything starts out bad and continues on that path. Its gruelling and oddly paced, but what it’s trying to do is interesting if nothing else and Freeman’s leading turn is especially compelling.