MOVIE REVIEW: Cargo an ‘eerily effective’ zombie thriller
Directors: Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling
Starring: Martin Freeman, Susie Porter, Anthony Hayes
Running time: 105 minutes
Verdict: An eerily effective enviro-zombie thriller
DANNY Boyle's virus-born apocalypse took a month to play out in the cleanly-titled contemporary sci-fi classic 28 Days Later.
First-time feature filmmakers Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling speed up the clock in their low-budget Outback zombie horror, which made the news in February when Netflix brought the global rights in what is understood to be a multimillion-dollar deal.
Cargo's protagonist, Andy (Martin Freeman), has just 48 hours to save his baby daughter from the creature he is about to become after being bitten by one of the oozing Undead that shamble aimlessly across the parched landscape.
Ramke, who also wrote the screenplay, gets a special mention here for a lean, mean concept that turns the storytellers' financial limitations into something closely resembling a strength.
Filmmakers often shoot Australia's distinctive, naturally dramatic interior in a heightened, even mystical light.
Cargo, based on Ramke and Howling's 2013 Tropfest film of the same name, can't see the ochre for the dirt. This is a scorched earth scenario. The pandemic that is swiftly spreading through the population has its roots in environmental degradation - fissures caused by fracking provide the backdrop for one key dramatic sequence.
When not feeding on raw meat, the toxic enviro-zombies hibernate with their heads literally in the dirt - an indelible image despite the logistic challenges of the creatures' odd behaviour.
While the threat is national or even global, Ramke and Howling amplify the tension by keeping a tight frame.
This is story of one man's battle with internal and external demons as he attempts to transport his precious cargo to safety.
Since Andy's journey is clearly solitary one, it's probably not much of a spoiler to acknowledge that his wife (Susie Porter) only stays in the picture long enough to establish the emotional parameters of the story.
The opening sequence - which finds the loving, attentive young family aboard a houseboat on the Murray River - seems just a little off-kilter.
Their plight slowly becomes apparent when they break their own rules to board an abandoned yacht because they are running dangerously short on supplies.
Infection drives them onto very dry land, where Andy encounters Thoomi (Simone Landers) a young Aboriginal girl who is hiding from her tribe to protect her father (the country's flourishing first people deal swiftly and mercilessly with any afflicted).
Resilient and well equipped for survival, Thoomi turns out to be Andy's daughter's best hope.
The protagonist's protective paternal instincts run satisfyingly deep, even if Cargo's ending feels a little bit predictable - even glib.
Anthony Hayes' ugly opportunist is descended from a long and established line of racist rednecks.
But the films' indigenous supporting characters aren't as well drawn and I struggled with this element of the story.
Cargo's simple narrative virus still proves remarkably effective. This strange little horror film quietly and insistently works its way under your skin.
Cargo opens in select cinemas tomorrow and will be available to stream on Netflix in the coming months.