by Robin Burger
Cargo is a 2017 Australian Netflix original horror film based on a 2013 short film of the same name. However, it is debatable whether it really can be described as horror since while it is certainly a “zombie movie”, it shifts away from typical horror film elements in favour of emotional storytelling, making it more of a drama film set in a horror environment rather than a brutal, gory zombie horror film, similarly to The Cured, an Irish “zombie drama” from the same year.
The film is set in rural Australia during a zombie virus pandemic where infected people completely turn 48 hours after being bitten, which is what happens to Kay and later on her husband Andy who is bitten by her. Together with their baby daughter Rosie Andy now tries to find people to take care of and raise Rosie when he turns, and soon teams up with Thoomi, a young Aboriginal girl who was kidnapped and caged by a man named Vic who uses healthy humans as bait for zombies. Thoomi’s father has already turned when she and Andy first meet and she hopes to find the “Clever Man” – a shaman who she believes could cure her father, whom she tries hiding from the rest of her community since they would most likely kill him.
The exact origin of the virus is unknown, however there is quite a plausible theory as to how it started spreading; there are numerous references to a company collecting natural gas via fracking on native Aboriginal land which is opposed by the Aboriginal community as shown by their flag at a fracking station which has “Frack off!” written on it as well as the Clever Man talking about how man was poisoning the Earth, making man sick as well, so it does seem likely that the virus originated in the gas and then spread through the air, or perhaps it is more symbolic as humans, being part of nature, poison themselves while poisoning it.
It is also noteworthy that the word “zombie” is not used in the movie, putting it in the same category as the American TV show The Walking Dead in which the concept of zombies is not known to the characters, implying both are set in a universe in which media using that word simply does not exist.
The 2013 short film of the same name has a similar storyline, but it does not feature any Aboriginal characters, while the 2017 version has a remarkable extent of Aboriginal representation as shown by Thoomi and her community who are hunters fighting against zombies – as some of the only humans successful in fending them off. During the film there are multiple scenes depicting Aboriginal customs, such as putting on white face paint to keep away ghosts and hitting one’s head with a stone after a tragic incident, believing that the heartache would stop as well once the physical pain stops. There is also a scene in which Thoomi teaches Andy Aboriginal words, after calling him “gubba” (“white fella”), which is actually a quite commonly used term in Australia, dating back to the colonial period when English convicts would call each other “guv’ner” (governor), which Aboriginal Australians picked up and turned into “gubba”, referring to white people. The film also briefly depicts an instance of racism when Vic follows Thoomi who was just freed by Andy, calling her a “black bitch” as they are hiding from him, and while “gubba” is not at all a derogatory term for whites, Thoomi’s way of using the word might indicate bad experiences she or her people have had with white people in the past (perhaps also related to the fracking taking place on native Aboriginal ground), which would also explain her initially slightly frightened reaction to Andy.
Cargo manages to fuse a classic horror movie trope with an emotional story and criticism of society, while depicting real issues Aboriginal Australians have to face in modern day Australia.
Adding to the Aboriginal representation, the film is dedicated to Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, an Aboriginal Australian singer who passed away shortly before it was released.