CARGO. Starring: Martin Freeman, Susan Porter, Simone Landers, and David Gulpilil. Also starring Anthony Hayes, and Caren Pistorius. Directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke. Rated 15+. Restricted. (Strong horror themes, violence, and coarse language). 104 min.
This Australian thriller tells the story of a man trying to protect his infant daughter after zombies create a pandemic. The film is set in rural Australia, where humans everywhere are succumbing to an untreatable and incurable disease caused by zombies biting them. Zombies typically emerge from hibernating in the dark to kill, or infect, what humans they can find, and when infected by them, a human only has two days before being transformed into a zombie.
Andy (Martin Freeman) and his wife, Kay (Susie Porter), hide out in a houseboat on the River Murray in South Australia with their one year old daughter, Rosie, hoping to escape the pandemic. They are trying to get to a military base they hope will protect them. Foraging for food on an upturned boat along the way, Kay is infected and she in turn infects Andy, but not Rosie. When Kay dies, Andy knows he has only 48 hours of human existence left to protect his child. He wants to save her at any cost, but knows he is doomed.
Andy spends his time desperately looking for a guardian to care for his child. Trekking over land, he comes across white people trying to survive, often cruelly by what they do to others, even sacrificing other people as bait to lure zombies to their death. Some Aboriginal communities have managed to avoid contamination, and one of its members is a young Aboriginal girl, Thoomi (Simone Landers), who provides the answer for him. Thoomi has left her community because she wanted to look after her father who is infected, and Andy and Thoomi manage to find each other. They both wanted to protect someone they love, and they join forces to help each other. The final scenes of the movie show Thoomi returning to her community with Andy before he dies, promising him that she will care for his child.
The existence of a deadly disease that ravages humans is the focus of many horror, and science fiction films, but this movie has an unusual emphasis. Like many of them, the movie explores the threat of evolving viruses, and the impossibility of finding resistance to them, but its main concern is with parental love, and it sensitively advocates the preservation of the ancient culture of Australia’s Indigenous Peoples. Threading through the movie are horrible events, but it shows Indigenous persons retreating into the bush to form safe communities that will protect them. In one of those communities, David Gulpilil is the “clever man” of Thoomi’s tribe, and he gives Thoomi spiritual nourishment that helps sustain her.
This movie fulfils the requirements of its genre with expected horror scenarios, such as zombie flesh-eating, which is a byproduct of the viral infection, and it holds its tension well by people’s desperate attempts to stay alive. But it departs from its genre by providing thoughtful commentary on human and social issues, including race relations. Such themes lift the movie well above the ordinary for a film of this kind, and the movie has many positive messages to impart.
This is a horror movie with a difference, set in the Australian outback. Wonderful scenery is captured by camerawork that offers spectacular images of the Flinders ranges. Under the astute and sensitive direction of Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, the film freshly addresses its genre. A plot about “the undead”, as it were, is used to strongly communicate family and Indigenous values. When Andy and Thoomi escape into the outback with Rosie, the film focuses on a cross-racial group trying to survive, and it explores many issues that contrast white persons with Indigenous persons in Australian society. The film, against all expectation, mixes struggle for survival, with parental love and commitment, inter-generational unrest, and zombie violence.
This is a quality film for those who aren’t normally motivated to go to horror films. It has a fair share of gore (but not a great deal), but its heart beats strongest for family love, and racial harmony.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released May 17th., 2018