Much like the undead themselves, Zombie movies are relentless. Spreading across the entertainment industry like a hoard of walkers through a city full of delicious people, zombie fiction has cemented itself as a popular staple of the modern movie scene. Naturally, as with any popular concept or idea, there’s of course a plethora of substandard rip-offs, trite remakes and derivative zombie flicks flooding our cinemas, streaming sites and straight-to-DVD shelves, content to merely lurch through the motions. Frankly, it’s never been more difficult to find a new zombie film where both quality and originality aren’t mutually exclusive.
Luckily, Netflix has saved the day with Cargo, a solid walking dead drama containing plenty of fresh ideas and less-then-fresh zombies. Based on the 2013 viral short of the same name, Cargo is a wholly refreshing take on the zombie genre, bought to stunning life by co-directors Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling (from a script by Ramke), evoking the best the genre has to offer, yet punctuating proceedings with a greater degree of heart then other films would allow.
Martin Freeman stars as Andy, who finds himself on the receiving end of a fatal zombie bite from his infected wife whilst attempting to find safe passage through a zombie-ridden Australian outback. With only 48 hours until he inevitably turns into a mindless flesh eater, Andy is doomed. Worse still, he has his baby daughter in tow! Thus a desperate race against time begins, as Andy desperately hurries to find someone to take care of his baby before he turns!
With such a brilliant central conceit at it’s core, Cargo is certainly a cut above the majority of other zombie films from recent years. Ramke‘s script conjures up all the usual grimness and dehumanizing imagery one expects in these post-apocalyptic settings, adding in some unusual zombie characteristics and a truly repulsive human villain to up the stakes even more. But whilst the standard zombie flick ingredients are (mostly) all here, Ramke and Howling‘s film chooses to use these terrifying tropes sparingly, employing them to pepper the narrative rather then letting them fully drive it.
Here, the creative team keep the emphasis set firmly on the human, not the horror – those expecting rampaging hordes, buckets of blood-soaked gore and jump scares by the dozen will find little of that here, these elements instead employed only in service of the story, which has its sights firmly set on character, not titillating scares. That’s not to say there’s no tension here though, as the film is chock full of nail-biting moments that will have you yelling at the screen and covering your eyes out of sheer breathless fear.
The isolated, sprawling locations lend the film both a strange beauty and a never-ending hopelessness, epitomized best in the stark, unnerving shots of the seemingly endless Australian outback. The way the directors employ the setting also extends to the indigenous aborigine culture, which plays a major part in both the main story and the themes within. The introduction of Thoomi (Simone Landers), an aboriginal girl whose journey parallels and eventually intertwines with Andy’s own, continues this unusual aesthetic, ensuring the setting never feels gimmicky, but highly important to the film as a whole.
Make no mistake, Cargo is not your average zombie film – incredibly uplifting and emotionally true, it lacks the cynical edge of other horror films, presenting a pure human drama that uses the horror element as a springboard for a more personal tale of love, loss, fatherhood and family. Martin Freeman delivers a powerful performance as Andy, understated and subtle for the most part, but enthralling and frighteningly real nonetheless. It’s his natural every-man quality that sells the scares and keeps events grounded, which in turn results in a far greater edge of your seat thrill. Frankly, the filmmakers couldn’t have picked a better actor to play the part!
Powerful human-interest drama with neat twists and enthralling characters, Cargo is a zombie film that will entertain both horror fanatics and those less-inclined towards apocalyptic guts-n-gore terror, thanks to it’s beautiful, emotionally charged story. Thoughtful and relatable, it’s a horror film guaranteed to have you drying your eyes, as opposed to hiding them away behind a pillow.