Saturday, April 21, 2018

Tribeca ’18: Cargo

Relatively speaking, Australia should expect high survival rates if a zombie apocalypse ever swept across the globe. They have a low population density and a good deal of open space. In fact, even the unassuming Andy has survived with his wife and infant daughter for several months. Unfortunately, dwindling supplies will lead to tragedy in Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s Cargo (trailer here), a feature expansion of their widely viewed short film, which screens during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

Commandeering a houseboat was a temporarily winning strategy, but it is not sustainable over the long run. Eventually, the need for food forces Andy (perhaps a nod to Andy Rodoreda, the lead actor in the 2013 short) and Kay to take risks and that leads to sloppiness. The upshot is first Kay and then Andy is infected with the zombie virus. She will go fairly quickly, but he will presumably have most of his full forty-eight-hour incubation period to figure out how to secure his baby daughter Rose’s future.

There are a few survivors out there, but some of them reflect the worst in human nature. Others demonstrate kindness, like a cancer-stricken school teacher, but obviously she cannot be a long-term guardian. Frankly, Australia’s aboriginal population seems to be the best prepared to deal with the zombies, so Andy tries to forge an alliance with Thoomi a resilient teen girl, who is essentially an orphan since her father turned.

Cargo is a zombie film with real emotional heft, sort of in the tradition of the Schwarzenegger film Maggie. Frankly, Howling & Ramke serve up relatively few zombie attacks, but they maintain an overwhelming sense of tension every second of the way, so you really can’t call it a revisionist zombie movie, or Heaven forbid, “post-horror.”

Based on what we heard from Steve’s interview with Martin Freeman forthcoming on Unseen Films, it is easy to understand why the film’s themes of fatherhood and sacrifice appealed to Martin Freeman. He is terrific taking over from Rodoreda as the father. He might just be the actor with the most everyman (or everyhobbit) credibility since Tom Hanks at his peak, which serves him well in this context. Susie Porter is also pretty darned devastating as Kay, while Kris McQuade also adds a graceful note of compassion as the school teacher, Etta.

The media and popular culture generally portrays widespread calamities as a catalyst for looting and exploitation, but the historical record suggests the opposite is more accurate. Disasters usually bring out the best in people, but we never see that in zombie movies and TV shows. At least Ramke’s screenplay offers a more balanced assessment. There are both good and bad people in Cargo, just as there are in real life. Recommended as a zombie film with heart and genuine feeling, the Netflix-bound Cargo screens again tonight (4/21) and Wednesday (4/25), during this year’s Tribeca.