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Cargo

Year: 2017
Production Co: Addictive Pictures
Director: Ben Howling
Writer: Ben Howling/Yolanda Ramke
Cast: Martin Freeman, Susie Porter, Simone Landers, Anthony Hayes, Caren Pistorius, David Gulpilil

To say zombie movies have been done to death (pardon the pun) is beyond a cliche at this point. But after movies like The Cured, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, Ravenous , The Rezort and It Stains the Sands Red, it's becoming redundant to talk about the genre still producing surprisingly inventive twists on zombie mythology.

Cargo doesn't fundamentally change anything particular about the undead infection or their hunger for human flesh, but it's one of the most intensely personal zombie stories in ages. It doesn't so much deliver an affecting personal drama amid the carnage, it tells a dramatic story of hope and desperation with a zombie apocalypse going on around the periphery that's mere plot mechanics to drive the characters onward.

Andy (Martin Freeman) and his wife Kay (Susie Porter) are on a houseboat in the middle of a river somewhere in the Australian outback with their baby daughter Rosie. Though not in immediate danger, it soon becomes apparent they can't stay there forever. Some sort of disaster has befallen the world and they'll need to find food or medicine before long.

They come across an abandoned yacht which Andy pilfers for whatever he can find, but it's when he returns to their houseboat to sleep that Kay goes across to the yacht to look again, being bitten by the infected onboard that Andy missed and sealing her fate. At the same time we meet a young aboriginal girl, Thoomi, who has her infected father detained, feeding him animals she catches in the hopes there'll be some cure for him.

Andy awakens to find Kay bitten and in the first stages of turning. They set about testing her with an official-looking medical kit that serves two very effective narrative purposes – establishing that the virus takes 48 hours to turn people into flesh eating monsters, and that society has crumbled slowly, giving the authorities enough time to produce and distribute kits to test for the infection before the last threads of society have given way.

There's no saving Kay but Andy speeds off with his family in a stolen four wheel drive, narrowly avoiding Thoomi's dad who's wandering in the middle of the road, injuring both himself and Kay in the resulting crash and passing out.

When Andy wakes up, Kay has turned completely, her face covering in the oozing crusty discharge that's dribbled out of her eyes and mouth, and Andy isn't careful enough getting Rosie out of the car, Kay biting him in the attempt.

Realising he has two days to find somewhere safe for Rosie to be before he himself turns and devours his infant daughter and anyone else nearby, Andy is desperate. He find his way to an abandoned school to a mine site where a guy and the women he claims is his wife (but who it's obvious is living under a pall of barely-restrained fear) offer Andy temporary safety.

When the guy, Vic (Anthony Hayes) takes Andy out shooting in the night and Andy sees that he's locked local aboriginal people he's taken hostage in cages to act as bait for the zombie hordes, Andy realises he and his daughter might be in serious trouble.

When Vic realises Andy is onto him he reveals his true colours, putting Andy and the captured Thoomi in one of his traps. The only get out of it by working together and using their brains, and after narrowly escaping Vic's wrath they're on the run again, Andy even more short on time.

With his faculties crumbling and knowing the final fatal change is coming, Andy has to try to save Thoomi from her father, battle Vic again and somehow still find somewhere where Rosie can survive without him.

His solution is an emotional suckerpunch that caps off the aesthetic of the whole film beautifully. There's a decent amount of blood and thrills for the genre, but the whole thing is like a slow ballad, occasionally sad and sombre, occasionally menacing – especially with the low thumps and at-times unremitting ticking clock effect in the music. The camera drifts and soars over some distinctive landscapes that are unique to Australia, and not just beautiful but forbidding ones.

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