The zombie film has been on the rise since hits in the early 2000s such as Resident Evil (2002), 28 Days Later (2002), Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Shaun of the Dead (2004). In recent years, this has given all evidence of running out of ideas due to the sheer proliferation of entries in the genre, resulted in the deliberately ridiculous gonzo title mash-up that has run all the way from Zombie Strippers! (2008) to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016).
At face value, Cargo resembles less a zombie film and more a work like Nicolas Roegs Walkabout (1970) about two white schoolchildren lost in the Australian Outback who are aided by an Aborigine. (Confirming the source of inspiration, David Gulpilil who played the role of the Aborigine in Walkabout also turns up as the tribal elder in the final scenes here). Equally you could slot Cargo into the company of Australian films over recent years such as These Final Hours (2013) and The Rover (2014), which take place across the great Australian landscape with a collapsing society as a backdrop.
Cargo joins a few recent zombie films that are trying to be more than zombie films. Recent examples would include Here Alone (2016), which seemed more like a wilderness survival drama in the aftermath of social collapse and was some way in before revealing itself as a zombie film, or the unique Irish-made The Cured (2017) concerning the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. Cargo likewise is at its very essence a zombie film but also one that never mentions the word zombie once throughout.
The initial scenes dance around telling us what is going on. We are engaged in Martin Freeman and Susie Porters journey down the river and the suggestions of some type of plague, the urgency of their low supplies and images that hint at something dire as they pass a family on the riverbank and the father produces a gun to warn them off. Even when Susie Porter is attacked, we never see what happens aboard the yacht, only ominous movings of the internal door and then cut to her having returned bleeding from a bite. Thereafter we start to get more hints but this is turned on its head when, not far into the film, lead Martin Freeman, the only recognisable name present, is bitten. Having the lead actor infected less than a third into the show is such a radical breaking of expectation in a zombie film, you dont know where things are heading next.
Thereafter, the film becomes more of a picaresque than it does a zombie film. There is not the ferocious battle for survival that we get in other zombie films. The most it does approach this is the scenes where we meet Anthony Hayes who you suspect would readily have joined the redneck deputies having fun shooting zombies at the end of Night of the Living Dead (1968) or perhaps even more so the posse with the barbecue at the end of the remake Night of the Living Dead (1990). The most suspense driven scenes are the ones where Martin Freeman and Simone Landers are chained together by Hayes in a cage as the zombies surround it. Mostly the latter scenes are ones of the trust and friendship between Freeman and young Aborigine girl Simone Landers. These scenes are conducted with an uncommon sensitivity, reaching an ending that ends up being quite emotionally affecting.
Original short film here:-