by Ben Königsfeld
Cargo is originally a horror short film released in 2013 by Yolanda Romke and Ben Howling. It is seven minutes long and deals with a father who was infected with a zombie virus after getting bitten by his wife. Knowing his forthcoming demise, the father puts his infant daughter in his backpack and lets a stick with a piece of flesh dangle in front him. Consequently, he follows that piece of flesh after turning into a zombie to make sure he finds survivors to ensure his daughter has a future. Four years after the short film was released, Yolanda Romke and Ben Howling had a chance to turn their passion project into a full length movie for Netflix with Martin Freeman playing the role of Andy, the father from the short film, and Susie Porter playing his wife Kay.
The movie has the same premise as the short film but begins before the events of it take place. Andy and Kay, alongside their infant daughter Rosie, live on a boat safely away from the zombie rotten land but Kay gets infected after going through an abandoned boat. Knowing they have 48 hours before she turns into a zombie, Andy and his wife go on land hoping to find supplies. After a car crash, Kay starts to transform faster and ends up biting Andy. This marks the start of Andy’s journey to find survivors and a safe home for his daughter Rosie.
Although the movie may seem like another zombie film, it has several aspects that differentiates itself from other movies of the zombie genre. Primarily, the word zombie is not mentioned in the movie. The directors themselves wanted to avoid the cliches that come with the sub genre and designed the idea of a ‘‘viral‘‘, to make their infected have their own stylistics. Unlike other zombie films, human relation plays a big a role in Cargo as the motives of most characters are driven by their loved ones. Throughout the film Andy meets a girl called Thoomi. Thoomi’s father is also infected, but she is trying to keep him alive by feeding him with wildlife and hiding him from survivors, in hopes of finding a shaman. Thoomi’s introduction opens the movie to the significant role of indigenous characters. In the end Rosie’s life is saved not only by Andy but also by Thoomi and other people of her community as a great deal of them are still alive and healthy. This also demonstrates that indigenous groups managed to survive through to their ability and history in hunting and living in the outback which has left them with better knowledge to live in a world where society is mostly gone. The directors closely worked with an indigenous script consultant called Jon Bell and also asked other natives for criticism on their script and permission to use their language. It also heavily focuses on family and the relationship of a father and his daughter similar to the South Korean zombie movie Train to Busan by Yeon Sang-Ho. Nevertheless, it is still different from Sang-Ho’s film as Romke and Howling decided to leave out classic horror features such as showing great amounts of gore or making use of jump scares to create tension. The real tension comes from the ticking clock of Andy‘s transformation and the seemingly endless landscapes of the Australian outback.
Cargo is a new take on the traditional zombie film, a genre which has recently become boring. Yolanda Romke and Ben Howling created a fantastic full length zombie movie laid on the foundation of a seven-minute short film and managed to find the perfect balance between horror and the relationship of a family during apocalyptic times. This movie, alongside the aforementioned Train to Busan, hopefully marks the start of a new and revolutionized era of the zombie sub genre.