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  • Benjamin May

Cargo (2017) Review

In the midst of a viral outbreak, Andy Rose, his wife Kay and their daughter Rosie have found temporary sanctuary on a houseboat in rural Australia. Misfortune befalls Kay after she ventures out to an abandoned yacht for supplies, forcing the family to leave the safety of the river in search of help. On land, things decline rapidly, and all hell breaks loose. With the help of an Aboriginal girl named Thoomi, Andy traverses the outback looking for assistance; though his time is quickly running out.


Written and directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, and based on their 2013 short film of the same name, ‘Cargo’ is a beautifully shot, well-acted and unfortunately predictable zombie film less ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and more ‘Yawn of the Dead’. Unlike other modern zombie films- like the great ‘Train to Busan,’ which also dealt with a father trying to save his daughter- ‘Cargo’ lacks originality or excitement. From the start, the film is a dour slog with a formulaic narrative, while its characters act illogically and inconsistently.

Initially, Andy is shown to be quite resourceful, though his self-sufficiency and intelligence diminishes the more the film goes on. For instance, he’s well aware that no-one should really be trusted in this new world, then spends the rest of the film trying to pass his daughter off on people he hasn’t yet gotten to know, or trust. Though he’s in a desperate situation against the clock, it isn’t good writing- or parenting.


Ramke’s poor characterisation isn’t limited to him, though. Kay is nothing more than a plot device, Thoomi, with all her plucky ingenuity, is completely unbelievable, while the Aboriginals are treated with such deference it seems disingenuous. Moreover, Ramke associates them with familiar cliches of mystical wisdom and cultural appropriation that seems old-fashioned at best, and a little wrong-headed at worst. This is not even to mention the villain of the piece, Vic, whose character is whatever the writers want him to be at any given moment: evil one minute, sympathetic the next.

Although narratively ‘Cargo’ doesn’t impress, Geoffrey Simpson’s epic cinematography is striking and atmospheric. His wide-shots capture the vastness of the outback effectively, while his dynamic hand-held camera movements add tension and drama to proceedings. Additionally, Dany Cooper and Sean Lahiff’s editing is astute, giving the film a good pace from the start, while the score from Michael Hohnen, Daniel Rankine, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and Johnathon Mangarri Yunupingu is evocative and stirring.


Furthermore, Martin Freeman’s lead performance as Andy is engaging from start to finish. Demonstrating the quiet confidence that has endeared him to so many over the years, Freeman handles the emotional turmoil of the role in a subtle way, sharing a great chemistry with the two sets of twins who portray Rosie. Simone Landers, in her acting debut as Thoomi, impresses; though her inexperience is evident through her rather wooden line delivery. In addition, Anthony Hayes is terrifically menacing as Vic; making the most of Ramke’s uneven, scant secondary characterisation.

In conclusion, despite a strong lead performance from Martin Freeman, a stirring score and stunning cinematography from Geoffrey Simpson, ‘Cargo’ is an underwhelming effort. Lacking the excitement of most zombie films, it is overly dour and dull. Yolanda Ramke’s screenplay suffers from a dearth of nuanced or believable characterisation, and her dialogue isn’t much to write home about either. For those looking for an original, exciting zombie film about family, go watch ‘Train to Busan,’ or even 'Shaun of the Dead;' because ‘Cargo’ just doesn’t deliver.


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