Film Review: Cargo

Expanded from a popular short film written by Yolanda Ramke and co-directed by her and Ben Howling in 2013, this SA-shot horror-drama comes along at a time when the Australian film industry avoids ‘genre movies’ like the plague, but producers will surely change their minds after this one.

Part-funded by the Adelaide Film Festival and shot on the Murray River and in the Flinders Ranges (although place names aren’t discussed here), we open some time after an apocalyptic virus has ravaged the country. Andy (English actor Martin Freeman), his wife Kay (Susie Porter) and their baby daughter Rosie are on a houseboat, and the air is often thick with smoke from fires lit by Aboriginal communities as they attempt to fight off what can only be described as zombies (but here they’re called ‘ghosts’). These introductory scenes are amongst the best and most striking here, and suggest a higher budget than was actually available.

What happens from hereon doesn’t need spoiler alerts, as it’s obvious that Andy, Kay and the white-fella world as we know it are all doomed, and soon we get down to the main plot, which has the infected Andy trying to transport Rosie to someone, somewhere, who can take care of her before he changes. He teams up with an indigenous teen named Thoomi (Simone Landers), who’s looking for ‘clever man’ Daku (as played by a frail David Gulpilil). The image of baby Rosie in Andy’s backpack as he and Thoomi struggle along together, with ‘ghosts’ close behind, is an unforgettable one.

Featuring small roles for Kris McQuade, Caren Pistorius and Anthony Hayes (in intense mode), Ramke and Howling’s film is a little reluctant about getting too horrific, meaning that (unlike a George Romero classic or TV’s The Walking Dead) there are about two dozen or so infected-types instead of hundreds. It also tries just a touch too hard to make the point that only the country’s original inhabitants truly know how to deal with the monstrous threat, but Freeman and Landers are so strong and Geoffrey Simpson’s cinematography so sumptuous that it hardly matters.

And, in the end, how can you not be moved by the plight of a dying man trying to save such precious cargo?

Rated MA. Cargo is in cinemas now.

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