[Review] Netflix’s CARGO Proves That Even A Zombie Movie Can Break Your Heart

Netflix Original Cargo is a surprising and refreshing remix of the post-apocalyptic zombie subgenre. Smart at times, but always with its heart on its sleeve. Going into any new zombie movie, you start with the assumption that there’s probably no way the film can deliver something fresh and unique. Sometimes you are 100 per cent right, but every now and then the filmmakers rise to the occasion.

Of course, even the most impressive story can have frustrating characters making frustrating decisions. For the first 30 minutes, you watch Andy (Martin Freeman) and his wife Kay (Susie Porter) make a series of stupid decisions especially as parents of an infant in the zombie-riddled Australian outback. The whole thing smelled (pun intended) of a script dumbing down its main character to get him to a place where the real story could begin.

 

” [We watch Freeman] struggle, and not just with the physical changes, but with prospect of losing hope, and watching every new idea he has get sucked into a potential void of despair.”

 

It’s not exactly a spoiler to say that an ill-advised excursion to an abandoned yacht for an anniversary present results in Kay being bitten by a zombie plague victim. Andy, refusing to believe his wife can’t be saved, takes her and their infant daughter Rosie ashore from their stolen house boat to make their way to a mobile army hospital. The quest fails due to Andy’s refusal to accept the inevitable, and when zombie Kay bites Andy, he has 48 hours to find someone, and somewhere, safe for Rosie before he himself turns.

What filmmakers Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke do smartly is invest in the details. From the beginning, you are are given a ticking clock, a set timeline for our protagonist to achieve one last goal before he becomes a monster. It means we must watch him struggle, and not just with the physical changes, but with prospect of losing hope, and watching every new idea he has get sucked into a potential void of despair.

 

 

It’s on Freeman though to carry that sense of hopefulness even in the wake of potentially overwhelming anguish. In fact, you come to admire Andy as he refuses to be mowed over by each new setback. Instead of wallowing in depression, he pivots to a new plan of attack, as all he needs is the promise that Rosie will have a good chance at a decent life when he’s gone. Freeman’s “everyman” appeal is squeezed for every drop of humanity and dignity. You never him see him rage at the heavens, and only once does he think about giving up before quickly recovering. After watching hours of The Walking Dead, where the human choice always seems to be the best of the worst, such raw optimism is refreshing.

Andy finds an ally in young Thoomi (Simone Landers), an Aboriginal girl diligently protecting her zombified father until she can find her tribe’s shaman to save him. Landers’ performance as Thoomi is fairly nuanced, as Thoomi is shown to be adept at surviving solo in the zombie-filled Outback, while still being somewhat naive in the expectation that magic might save her father.

 

Thoomi’s final goodbye to Andy is so wonderfully handled, and so painstakingly humane, that you forget it’s a moment you’ve seen a thousand times.”

 

Howling and Ramke work wonders with their limited budget, but a lot of the heavy lifting is done by the beautiful Australian countryside, which, if nothing else, is a uniquely different venue for a zombie movie (at least to a North American audience). The make-up effects are simple but effective, and while sometimes startling, they’re not overly gross either. And the directors like placing zombies just inside the camera’s blind spot to make you feel just how close and unexpected the danger can be.

That said, zombies and horror movie trappings are not the reason to watch Cargo. It’s the idea that even in the face of a monstrous end, and the beginning of societal breakdown, that people can still be good. Thoomi’s final goodbye to Andy is so wonderfully handled, and so painstakingly humane, that you forget it’s a moment you’ve seen a thousand times. By the time you get to the end, and Andy’s beautiful (and gracious) message of gratitude is revealed, you are broken. In a genre of blood and gore, a zombie movie can still break your heart and Cargo is the proof.

 

 

An obvious comparison to Cargo is Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road, about a father and son trying to live smartly, but with dignity, in a post-apocalyptic world. You can destroy civilization 100 different ways, and zombies are as good a way as any, but these stories are about exposing inhumanity, and how terrible people can be without society’s restraints. How refreshing to find a movie that makes you believe people are good and that for the most part, the only monsters you have to worry about at the end of the world are the actual monsters.

Have you watched Cargo yet? Let us know what you though of this surprisingly touching zombie movie on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!

 

 

 

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