If a zombie apocalypse were to happen in Australia, the first impulse would be to go bush. However, Cargo reveals the outback offers no sanctuary, as Martin Freeman discovers when he embarks on an unexpected journey to keep his baby daughter safe, whatever the cost.

The living dead here are the ‘viral’ variety, and after being bitten, Andy (Freeman) has 48 hours to find a safe haven for baby Rosie before he ceases to be human.

Attempting to reach a military base in the nearby hills, he encounters other survivors (some benevolent, some not) including a young Aboriginal girl, Thoomi (Simone Landers), whose own father has been infected and who believes that her tribe’s Cleverman (David Gulpilil) can help them. But will they find him before Andy succumbs to the virus?

This is a fantastic debut feature from directors Yolande Ramke and Ben Howling, who have expanded their 2013 short film (a Tropfest finalist) into a gripping and downbeat survival tale that’s more intent on breaking hearts than ripping them out.

That’s not to say there aren’t a number of chilling sequences (including a moment on a yacht that brings to mind Zombie Flesh-Eaters), but Cargo is foremost about the importance of family and a father’s determination not to give up hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Eschewing exposition for urgency, Ramke and Howling let the visuals do most of the storytelling. The cause and extent of the outbreak is never revealed, although subtle references to an environmental threat and contamination kits floating downriver fill in the blanks. The film also adds some cool additions to zombie lore, like a slimy transformation process and the infected’s need to hibernate.

Bringing the apocalypse this close to home, and including an indigenous perspective on the epidemic, invests Cargo with both a haunting familiarity and a unique point of difference in an overcrowded genre. It’s a terrific Australian film and a terrific zombie film, which is not a line you get to write very often. See it on the big screen while you can.

star-4In cinemas: May 17, 2018
Starring: Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Simone Landers
Directed by: Yolande Ramke and Ben Howling