Short Film vs. Feature-length Film
by Eva Musat & Julia Riffel
The 2013 Australian short film Cargo, written and directed by Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling is about a father who must save his young daughter from zombies by trying to escape and find a safe haven from the virus that has swept Australia. The short film was later adapted in 2017, made into a feature-length film by its creators, and categorized as an Australian post-apocalyptic horror drama.
Even though the feature film is based on the original screenplay of the short film, the two films differ considerably from each other.
Firstly, it is important to note that the feature-length movie graciously honored its predecessor by not changing the Australian setting. Instead, it only amplified the beautiful scenery from the short film, showing a visually stunning outback. This heightens the feeling of isolation throughout the father’s journey and demonstrates to the audience the harsh circumstances he must deal with in his struggle to survive.
The main difference between the two media pieces is the way the respective formats work. In the short film, we don’t get any background information and are directly thrown right into the action. Only gradually we are shown the situation and introduced to the characters. We have the basics of the idea: some kind of virus that turns the people into a kind of zombie and a father trying to find a safe space for him and his baby – all without speaking. This is a particularly interesting aspect of the short film since it manages to keep its viewers entertained with no dialogue throughout the duration of the movie. The viewer focuses on what is shown on the screen – the visuals. In a typical movie, this would mean carefully planned shots, changes in lighting, and overall powerful cinematography to make up for the lack of verbal content. However, Ramke and Howling use the camera to focus only on the plot, there are no unnecessary landscape shots or subplots, making it a highly efficient storytelling method.
In the full-length version, we see a little more of what’s going on. We get an additional 20 to 30 minutes of exposition that leads us up to the point where the original short film starts. We also have more developed relationships within the family as the mother is still alive at the beginning of the movie. This makes the movie far more tragic than the short film version, as we see how they turn into zombies and how Andy, the father, has to overcome his selfish feelings. There is also a sense of urgency that is not present in the short film. After being bitten, you have around 48 hours until you turn- there are even first aid kits for this! But the movie version is also far more gruesome as it shows the turning (not recommended for people with a weak stomach). Andy’s journey through the feature-length film is extended by various subplots and even more painful traveling while trying to come up with the best plan to save his daughter, all of which the director accompanied with wide-range landscape shots. Because of all this new and extensive information, the viewer is fully immersed in the experience of the story and by the end of the movie, one or two may even shed a few tears.
Overall the two movies are quite different in the way they work and the lasting impression they leave behind. The short film is more effective in its storytelling yet it lacks the emotional part that the feature-length film creates. The 2017 version manages to make a lasting impression of the painful experience Andy has to go through by focusing on his journey and different aspects of it.