Directors: Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke
Screenwriter: Yolanda Ramke
Runtime: 105 mins.
Australian release date: 17 May 2018
Previewed at: Palace Central, Sydney, on 2 May 2018.
The idea for Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s film Cargo germinated from a seven-minute 2013 Tropfest entrant that went on to become a massive global hit on YouTube. It’s a frightening tale set in the outback of South Australia sometime in the not-too-distant future, when an unknown pandemic has decimated life as we know it. “Going from a seven-minute short film to a 100-minute feature film, there’s a big difference there in terms of material,” says Ramke. “You need to start thinking more deeply about things that you want to be tapping into, and expanding the world of the film, and you have to get a lot more detailed and introduce new characters and new layers to the story.” True that! The good thing is that the creators have added an Indigenous storyline to what could have been just another zombie pic and that’s shaped a whole new beast. At its heart though are interconnected, very human, stories about the love of a father for his daughter and a daughter for her father.
A couple, Andy (Martin Freeman) and Kay (Susie Porter), and their one-year-old child Rosie, are chugging down a river on a houseboat on a seemingly pleasant trip until we realise that they’re looking for a safe haven where they can be protected from the threat of disease. If that’s not bad enough, it quickly becomes evident that the disease is spread by a bite from an infected person… a person who’s hungry for blood. When they come across an abandoned yacht, Andy manages to recover some supplies but, while he’s having a nap, Kay decides to retrieve more. At this point their lives take a turn for the worse and they’re suddenly in a much more desperate position. And so a journey into the outback ensues. Leaving the river, the family come across an elderly woman, Etta (Kris McQuade), who advises Andy to seek the help of the area’s Indigenous people, and a white couple, Lorraine (Caren Pistorius) and Vic (Anthony Hayes), who live in a fenced off compound and aren’t so keen on the locals. He also meets an 11-year-old black girl, Thoomi (Simone Landers), who’s trying to protect her father and can see that Andy is just as keenly trying to save Rosie. This common bond unites them in a race against time.
The English actor Freeman, who most would recognise as Bilbo Baggins from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy or TV’s Sherlock, has been quite open in revealing that his outback experience was not necessarily a positive one; the isolation, the heat and quite probably the mosquitoes, may have had something to do with it, not to mention the discomfort of having a baby strapped to his back and his face covered in sticky gel while head first in a hole in the dirt. It’s a far cry from helping to solve a Sherlock Holmes mystery but, being the consummate performer he is, Freeman manages to pull it off convincingly, making use of his perennial sense of puzzlement, that ‘fish out of water’ look that seems to be his trademark. Landers is very good as the faithful daughter; a first-time actor, she has a bright future if the right opportunities become available to her. Martin Freeman established a special rapport with her: “Simone’s never acted before, she’s been a joy. She’s [a] really lovely lovely girl, she loves to laugh. She was charging me a dollar every time I swore so I ended up giving her a lot of money.” Geoffrey Simpson’s camera manages to heighten the sense of danger emanating from the bush, as does Jo Ford’s production design. Mention must also be made of the fantastic music score by Trails (Daniel Rankine, half of the popular Indigenous hip hop duo A.B.Original) and the recently deceased indigenous musician, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Gurrumul. Their song over the end credits is a stand out.
There are moments when Cargo is incredibly unnerving. Like all good thrillers, you don’t actually get to see the ‘Virals’ (as the crew referred to them) until later in the film, after the tension has been established by fear of the unknown and, even then, the undead are revealed piece-meal (pardon the pun). This is Ramke and Howling’s first feature film and it augurs well for their future endeavours. Together they’re a formidable team.