Produced on a modest budget and set in a zombie-infested Southern Australia, the heart-wrenching short film Cargo was kind of a big deal when it first hit the internet a few years back. Naturally, there was interest in adapting the short into a feature film, so the directing duo of Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke eventually returned with an updated version of their poignant undead drama, once again titled Cargo.
Starring the ever-charismatic Martin Freeman, Cargo tells the story of an unfortunate father tasked with keeping his young daughter safe in the post-apocalyptic Australian wilds after his wife succumbs to a zombie virus, biting him in the process. Driven only by his love for his daughter, Andy must journey through the wasteland in the hopes of securing a better future for his child before he inevitably joins the ranks of the undead.
Like the original short, this is an extremely versatile premise, allowing for hard-hitting dramatic moments as well as traditional zombie thrills without losing sight of the underlying human element. However, those familiar with the source material will likely become frustrated with some of the new additions to the story (especially a few unnecessary characters), which can at times make the experience downright boring.
Luckily, Freeman brings a lot to the table with his compelling portrayal of Andy, turning him into more than just a tragic father figure, and becoming a fully realized character that’s easy to root for. The accompanying cast also does a decent job, but the script obviously favors Andy’s development, with some minor characters feeling like an afterthought. That being said, the most important character here might actually be Cargo’s interpretation of the Australian countryside itself.
Despite what couldn’t have been a very large budget, the scenic locations and cinematography enhance the scope of the film, making up for a few moments of questionable production value. The blistering heat and desert-like landscape really help sell Andy’s desperation to a point that, had it been set anywhere else, the film would have been way less interesting. This is why, at least visually, Cargo is more than worth the price of admission if you can stomach a few instances of fake-looking zombie make up and gore effects.
It’s unfortunate that the script isn’t as polished as the visuals, with the film feeling more like an artificially extended version of the short rather than a proper feature. Even with the movie’s relatively brief runtime, several scenes feel like unnecessarily-long filler, and many of the sub-plots aren’t given the same attention as the rest of the story.
Ultimately, Cargo isn’t quite the same emotional roller-coaster as its predecessor, but it’s still a satisfying experience. The use of Aboriginal folklore added an interesting new element to the story, and the main narrative’s conclusion still packs a punch, even if it’s less impactful this time around. While there are certainly better zombie flicks out there, Cargo is still worth a watch.
Cargo will be available on Netflix on May 18th!