Directed by: Ben Howling, and Yolanda Ramke
Written by: Yolanda Ramke
Bruce R. Carter
Release Date: 5/18/2018, Netflix
In 2013, Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke gave us their exceptional short film CARGO, written by Ramke, about a father trying to find a safe place for his infant daughter, while he was in the midst of turning into a zombie. It premiered at the Tropfest short film festival, becoming a finalist, before going viral on YouTube. On May 18th, 2018 Howling and Ramke’s feature length version of this story, starring Martin Freeman, premiered on Netflix. Expanding a short film idea into a feature can be tricky. We’ve seen it done fairly well in recent years by the likes of LIGHTS OUT, and THE BABADOOK. I’m happy to say CARGO joins those movies as one that works, as Howling and Ramke manage to give us a film that’s equally good as a zombie movie, infection outbreak movie, a post-apocalyptic movie, and a drama.
The film begins as Andy (Martin Freeman), Kay (Susie Porter), and their infant daughter Rosie are surviving the zombie outbreak by living on a houseboat and traveling down a river in Australia hoping to find a safe and secure area. Without going into a full on exposition about the reason for the rise of the zombies, we discover the outbreak has been going on for some time, once infected via a bite you only have 48 hours before you die and turn, and world’s scientists weren’t able to come up with a cure. They did, however, manufacture medical kits for the pandemic that included a digital watch to count down your remaining 48 hours, and a cylinder that has a pneumatic spike for piercing the skull and killing the brain, among other items. Unfortunate events lead to Kay turning into a zombie, and Andy being bitten by her. He spends his next 48 hours trying to find a new, safe home for Rosie before he succumbs to the virus. In another plot running parallel to Andy and Rosie’s adventures, an Aboriginal girl named Thoomi, played wonderfully by newcomer Simone Landers, is trying to protect her zombiefied father. She believes that his spirit/soul can be returned to his body and he would be cured. Her father escapes the area she kept him in and this is the catalyst for Andy and Thoomi to meet, pushing events to their climax as Andy’s 48 hours run out.
I thought the film’s version of zombies was very well done. The way they move is creepy, it seems like they tried to make it grounded in a real world kind of way, and the way the virus works as it turns someone is unsettling. One scene in particular that occurs while Andy is nearing the end of his 48 hours stuck with me since my viewing of CARGO last week. However, I will warn you the zombies are used sparingly throughout the movie. Being set in the Australian outback, Andy and Thoomi aren’t dealing with a densely populated area teeming with the undead.
At its heart, CARGO is about family trying to protect its own in the midst of trying to cope in a world undergoing a total, societal breakdown. A great premise, spot on acting, a good script, and a wonderful job by two first time, feature film directors makes CARGO worth the time investment for a viewing. It’s a slow burn, zombie drama that feels like the offspring of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, and THE DEAD, a 2010 zombie film directed by the Ford Brothers. CARGO is a great addition to the genre, like recent zombie films THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, and TRAIN TO BUSAIN.