Recently, it seems like Netflix’s effort to inundate its subscribers with new content everyday just results in poorly conceived original programming. Sometimes, however, Netflix chooses instead to buy the rights to quality foreign films and then release them to a worldwide audience. Cargo is an example of the latter.
Cargo is an Australian film that Netflix released on May 18. Martin Freeman stars in this post-apocalyptic thriller set in the Australian outback. Cargo opens on Freeman as Andy, along with his wife Kay (Susie Porter) and young daughter, Rosie, floating down a river on an old steamboat. Things feel off, as Andy waves to a family picnicking on the riverbanks and is met with a leveled gun. As the movie continues, small hints are fed to the audience until everyone is made to understand that there has been a zombie outbreak and that most people who aren’t dead or undead are simply trying to survive on a meager scavenging existence. Meanwhile, the aboriginals have returned to “the old way,” as characters in the film put it, and are living in harmony with nature and are slowing burning the infected in an effort to cleanse the land of the disease.
Right at the very start, Cargo ratchets up the tension. All is calm and well until Kay is bitten on the leg by one of the infected. Andy, Kay, and Rosie are forced to abandon their boat in search of a hospital farther inland, in the hopes that Kay can be saved, or at least that Andy and Rosie might find help after Kay dies. Cargo takes an interesting approach to the zombification of its characters. Unlike The Walking Dead, in which characters who are bitten almost immediately die and turn, Cargo gives its bitten a 48 hour window of degradation. If the bleeding can be stopped, the infected person has a few hours until fever, vomiting, and convulsions set in. As the time ticks down, the bitten person begins to act and feel more and more like one of the undead. This allows Cargo to maintain its conceit as a zombie movie in addition to its focus on a small number of characters. The movie remains intimate and plot-driven while the tension stays high. Cargo is a race against the clock and away from the infected.
In a similar way as the George A. Romero zombie movies, Cargo, under a critical lens, is rife with political commentary. While the aboriginals, a historically oppressed group, thrive in the wild, everyone else in Australia is struggling to survive. With this and other characters or scenes, Cargo is a much more refreshing take on a zombie movie than other more recent examples of the genre like The Walking Dead or Resident Evil.
Freeman turns in a great performance in this movie. He is driven to protect his daughter at all costs, but he manages to insert enough humour and wry commentary to give audiences a break. Yet, one of the secondary characters practically steals the entire movie. Simone Landers plays Thoomi, one of the young aboriginal girls. Her character and performance is outstanding and very compelling, and is easily one of the best parts about this film. She is driven by the desire to care for her father, who has been bitten and turned for quite some time. She has tied his hands together and feeds him, all while trying to stay away from her mother. The way she and Freeman interact breathes life into Cargo at the height of the second act.
Cargo is one more example that the horror genre does not necessarily consist of bad movies filled with gore, violence, and bad plots. Instead, Cargo is an enjoyable and high-quality addition to the halls of Netflix’s content.
Featured Image by Netflix