Cargo does well by not trying too hard
The first Australian Netflix Original feature film, Cargo, is an amazing genre-defying zombie movie set in the Australian Outback. After a global pandemic, straight-laced Andy (Martin Freeman) is trying to keep his wife and infant daughter, Rosie, alive on their houseboat, avoiding land at all costs. But because terrible danger lurks around any corner in a zombie apocalypse, things quickly go horribly wrong. With a fresh zombie bite, Andy has forty-eight hours to travel on foot to find refuge for Rosie while staving off his illness. Along the way, he meets Thoomi (Simone Landers), an Aboriginal girl whose people are the only ones succeeding at survival.
Cargo is a tight, thrilling ride — quite an accomplishment given everything it packs in. Andy is lost in the Outback, racing the clock, becoming undead, fighting off zombies and even more dangerous humans, all while struggling with parenthood, environmental abuse, fallout, and cultural tensions. What this big collection of storylines creates is a nail-biting, emotionally stirring meditation on family and humanity. Cargo points clearly to environmental destruction as the cause of the pandemic, and takes a wide view on what it means to stop being a person. We travel 104 minutes with Andy, who is desperately figuring out how to avoid the horrific, unthinkable consequences of being a father who turns into a mindless flesh eater. Though everything is going from bad to worse, he’s still dedicated to creating a fun, joyful environment for his daughter, often giving her a big sweet smile in the middle of a zombie battle. By the end, I completely loved him. That primal, universal act of caring for that innocent, helpless baby is the one thing that keeps Andy human.
Thoomi’s story is interwoven beautifully as she cares for her infected father. She navigates her own crisis to find the Elder she believes will cure her father and navigates the treacherous terrain of kidnappers who use Aboriginal people to bait the zombies. It’s clear who brought the pandemic to her land, but then there’s this desperate father and his baby. Cargo does well by not trying too hard here. It puts them together in these catastrophic circumstances and gives space to unfold organically.
What could have been a frantic, forgettable gore-fest is actually a deeply touching allegory, using the zombie metaphor in ways that are far more chilling than things that go bump in the night. Cargo stayed with me long after, and I honestly can’t stop thinking about it. I never thought I’d cry at a zombie movie, but Cargo had me in absolute tears. The gorgeous cinematography captures the vast beauty of the Outback, and the lush, original soundtrack is truly outstanding. Kudos to Martin Freeman for holding his own with that incredible scene-stealing baby. That was likely the hardest part of his job.