You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Cargo’

A father tries to protect his infant daughter in a zombie-filled Australian Outback in Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s sturdy horror-drama.

Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius, Kris McQuade, Bruce R. Carter, Natasha Wanganeen, Simone Landers, David Gulpilil, Lily Anne McPherson-Dobbins, Marlee Jane McPherson-Dobbins, Finlay Sjoberg. Nova Sjoberg.
Release Date:
May 18, 2018

1 hour 44 minutes

In 2013’s “Cargo,” a seven-minute viral video that cleverly subverted several walking-dead clichés, directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke devised a novel way for a zombie-bitten father to lead his uninfected infant child to safety. Now, reteaming with star Martin Freeman for the Netflix-bound feature version, the duo wind up indulging the overplayed tropes at which they poked fun five years earlier — most notably, the existential questions raised when parents or spouses are infected, knowing they will soon become a threat to those they love most.

Less a straightforward walking-dead nightmare than a low-key drama about humanity’s capacity for compassion and cruelty in the face of disaster, this familiar saga eschews jolting scares for survival-esque (and dark-heart-of-man) thrills, relying largely on Freeman’s compelling lead turn to set it apart from the genre.

Coasting down a middle-of-nowhere Australian river in a borrowed houseboat, Andy (Freeman) is only intent on looking after wife Kay (Susie Porter) and baby daughter Rosie (played by twins Lily Anne and Marlee Jane McPherson-Dobbins, and Finlay and Nova Sjoberg). In this vast stretch of wasteland, some threats are visible — as with a riverbank clan whose dad immediately displays his firearm to Andy — while others remain just out of sight. No matter which direction danger lies, however, the couple’s conversations make clear that something has gone terribly awry in the world. Thus, when Andy chooses to investigate an abandoned ship for much-needed food and medical supplies, he does so with considerable caution.

By trying to placate Kay’s fears about that expedition, Andy inadvertently brings about tragedy, and before long, he and Rosie are ditching their aquatic ride and embarking on a trek across the dusty plains. Their journey is complicated by the real cause of Earth’s topsy-turvy condition: flesh-eating zombies, which are the byproduct of a viral infection. They soon find shelter courtesy of Vic (Anthony Hayes), a local Australian whose life they save and who, in exchange, takes them back to the makeshift residence he shares with Lorraine (Caren Pistorius). A hunter by trade, Vic seems like a good person to have around in these perilous times. Yet as in so many likeminded stories, his penchant for violence soon proves less a saving grace than one more thing to worry about for mild-mannered Andy, who can’t fire a rifle without first scrunching his face up in disgust.

In revelations about Vic’s means of combating this unholy epidemic, “Cargo” bolsters its formulaic action with an undercurrent about Australia’s racist history of oppressing its Aboriginal population. After intercutting these two seemingly unrelated strands throughout the first act, Andy’s path soon crosses with Thoomi (newcomer Simone Landers), a young Aboriginal girl trying to protect her “turned” father from her sister Josie (Natasha Wanganeen), who’s on a campaign to rid the country of its monsters through cleansing fire. Via Andy and Thoomi’s relationship, Ramke’s script finds a sturdy means of depicting, from both sides, the powerful bonds shared by parents and children, all while managing to transform the proceedings into something of a revisionist white-savior tale.

Cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson captures the Outback in all its rugged, windswept glory, replete with numerous scenes infested with buzzing flies — persistent indicators of death’s presence in this most inhospitable of milieus. Capably edited and directed, “Cargo” never takes off into truly unpredictable terrain. Still, radiating not only paternal devotion but also a blunt matter-of-factness that amplifies as his situation becomes more dire, Freeman’s empathetic turn makes Andy an endearing center of attention, and the film — even for those who’ve seen its source material — a heartfelt entry in the overstuffed genre.

Film Review: ‘Cargo’

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., April 22, 2018. (In Tribeca Film Festival — Midnight.) Running time: 104 MIN.

Production: A Netflix release of a Causeway Films production in association with Screen Australia, South Australian Film Corporation, Create NSW, Adelaide Film Festival, Head Gear Films, Metrol Technology, White Hot Productions, Addictive Pictures. Producers: Samantha Jennings, Kristina Ceyton, Russell Ackerman, John Schoenfelder, Mark Patterson. Executive producers: Ian Kirk, Jeff Harrison, Fergus Grady, Craig Deeker, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Ian Dawson, Zak Brilliant.

Crew: Director: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke. Screenplay: Yolanda Ramke. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Geoffrey Simpson. Editor: Dany Cooper, Sean Lahiff. Music: Daniel Rankine P.K.A. Trials, Dr. G Yunupingu, Michael Hohnen, Jonathan Mangarri Yunupingu.

With: Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius, Kris McQuade, Bruce R. Carter, Natasha Wanganeen, Simone Landers, David Gulpilil, Lily Anne McPherson-Dobbins, Marlee Jane McPherson-Dobbins, Finlay Sjoberg. Nova Sjoberg.

More Film

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal to Star in Remake of Denmark's Oscar Entry 'The Guilty' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bold Films, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker’s Nine Stories banner have acquired the rights to remake the Danish thriller “The Guilty,” with Gyllenhaal attached to star. The pic won the world cinema audience award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was also named one of the top five foreign language films of 2018 by [...]

  • Toxic Avenger

    'Toxic Avenger' Movie in the Works at Legendary

    Legendary Entertainment is developing “The Toxic Avenger” as a movie after acquiring the feature film rights. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment will serve as producers. Alex Garcia and Jay Ashenfelter will oversee for Legendary. Kaufman and Herz produced the original 1984 comedy, set in the fictional town of Tromaville, N.J., and centered [...]

  • Constance Wu

    'Crazy Rich Asians' Star Constance Wu in Negotiations for Romantic Comedy

    “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu is in talks to join Sony’s Screen Gems’ untitled romantic comedy, with Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman producing. “GLOW” actress Kimmy Gatewood is making her feature directorial debut on the project. She will be directing from a Savion Einstein script about a woman who becomes pregnant with two babies [...]

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal AoA

    Maggie Gyllenhaal on Why a Woman Director Doesn't Automatically Make a Story More Feminine

    Having a female director doesn’t automatically make a story more feminine, says “The Kindergarten Teacher” star Maggie Gyllenhaal, but when it comes to her film with director Sara Colangelo, she says the female narrative is fully encapsulated. “Just because something is written or directed by a woman doesn’t necessarily make it a feminine articulation,” she says [...]

  • Kevin Hart Hurricane Harvey

    Academy Looks Warily at Oscar Host Options as Board Meeting Looms

    Kevin Hart’s abrupt departure as Oscars host has left the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences scrambling to find someone to take the gig. As of now, the situation remains fluid as the group’s leadership explores options, including going host-less, individuals familiar with the situation told Variety. The Academy was blindsided by Hart’s announced departure Thursday [...]

  • Regina King Maggie Gyllenhaal

    Maggie Gyllenhaal, Regina King on Intimacy Experts: 'I Could Have Used the Help When I Was Younger'

    Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sex-trade industry series “The Deuce” features one job that’s unlike any other in television: an intimacy expert. During her Variety Actors on Actors interview with Regina King, “The Kindergarten Teacher” actress explained how the strange role is actually important in helping young actresses stand up for themselves, especially when it comes to sex scenes on [...]

  • Javier Bardem Elle Fanning Salma Hayek

    Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek to Star in Sally Potter Drama

    Production has begun in Spain on Sally Potter’s untitled family drama, starring Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek, Chris Rock, and Laura Linney. The story is described as a chronicle of a wild day in the life of a man on the edge, held together by the unconditional love of his daughter with Bardem and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content