Tribeca Film Festival: Cargo (2017) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

A new Netflix original film, Cargo (2017) directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, expands on a short film with an extremely interesting premise. Andy (Martin Freeman) and Kay (Susie Porter) are floating down a river in a houseboat with their baby, Rosie. It becomes clear that they are attempting to escape an outbreak of some sort of disease, but they are running out of supplies. Andy sees a family celebrating a birthday on the shore, and is extremely excited to see other people…but when he attempts to initiate contact, the father flashes Andy a gun from his waistline, implying “keep on moving.”

Cargo is a decent zombie flick with an exceptional performance from Martin Freeman

Andy and Kay’s luck does improve when he happens on a shipwrecked yacht. Andy finds a cooler full of food and presents his findings to Kay in an endearing way, as if nothing was truly wrong. He takes a nap, and Kay’s curiosity and hope of finding some additional items send her to the same wrecked yacht. She finds something Andy missed, which changes their course dramatically.

Freeman is lovable and charismatic – which he usually is – and asserts a level of toughness not always seen in his characters. He is living in a zombie-like situation with a very young baby. He is set on a road trip with a limited timetable, where he meets a series of interesting characters. By far the most significant – which effect his life the most – are Vic (Anthony Hayes) and Thoomi (Simone Landers). The bond Andy forms with Thoomi is an important one, and the young actress is able to definitely deliver with the help of Freeman’s charm.

The film’s take on zombies is interesting, but some of the unique traits feel like there isn’t a reason to them, other than to simply attempt to differentiate itself from other zombie movies. A person has 48 hours before they will change once infected, unless they die for some other reason before the disease kills them. They secrete a goo of some kind from their eyes, nose, and mouth, making them look very unsettling. The oddest characteristic, which is never fully explained, is they are compelled to dig holes and put their heads in them. There is a passing comment at some point which gives some context to the purpose, but it still feels like a choice to make these “zombies” stand out against all the other zombie films and TV shows out there, without doing anything to make it truly unique. Sure, your zombies bury their heads in the sand…so what?

Final thoughts…

Cargo is generally enjoyable, but it does manage to drag in small parts. The short film it was based on gets straight to the point and hits at what the heart of this story is. Sometimes, that aspect is lost when you stretch it to a feature-length film, which is what I feel occurred here. There are a few moments in this film that feel like they are there simply to extend the runtime. This happens at times in road trip stories where not every stop along the way feels natural or meaningful. Cargo still earns the Decent Watch rating, and will certainly be better than some of the more hyped Netflix Originals.

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