With the current deluge of zombie stories, it’s rare to see the zombie archetype used anywhere near as effectively as George Romero did in the original Night of the Living Dead. The concept of using some form of “zombie” was originally intended to highlight a growing “all consuming” pastime or behavior that (at least in the writing team’s view) has ingrained itself in the current zeitgeist. For the original Living Dead series, that was consumerism and the pursuit of material comforts; for Cargo, the behavior echoes Romero’s intent while also hinting that people have forgotten how to communicate effectively. But Ben Holwing and Yolanda Ramke add a surprisingly effective and uplifting bit to the archetype: a parent’s undying love for their child. Past these facts, Cargo stands strong as a film in its own right. While this is rare for a genre piece, it’s even rarer for a film that’s distributed almost exclusively through Netflix.
While Cargo is an expanded version of a short film of the same name, the additional time is largely well spent. The story is changed fairly significantly, as would be expected when expanding seven minutes to fill a feature-length time. The addition of Martin Freeman was an odd choice, but one that also added to the impact, as we see his character struggle to adapt to the surrounding reality of apocalyptic Australia. One of the few gripes I have with the film is actually with Freeman’s presentation of mixed emotions. While believable enough and understandable for the circumstances, his acting in particular can come across as somewhat forced. Nitpicks aside, the acting of the cast is still impressive, especially from newcomer, Simone Landers.
Not only does the film accurately tell its story while drawing the audience in, but even avoids many of the all-too-common pitfalls of more recent zombie tales; chief among those, the over embellished focus on the grotesque. Mr. Howling and Ms. Ramke manage to use the violence and gore that is necessary for this type of story in a measured manner and focus more on the actual plot in a way that implies innocence and struggle, rather than comfort and complacency. So much so that it almost gives the film a “feel good” air, which tends to be a running theme with Cargo: keeping hope alive, even in the darkest of circumstances.
Even if you’re one who is growing weary of all the zombie tales that are releasing now, I would encourage you to at least watch the short film for a taste of what zombie films have to offer.