Monday, April 23, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Cargo

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke

Zombies are everywhere right now in film and television, existing undead in various forms that find them feasting on brains and generally not gelling completely with whatever remains of the human population. Certain tenets seem to be consistent across the cinematic zombie universe, while the level of brain functionality and ability to communicate verbally vary, as does the cause of the virus that turned people and whether there’s any hope of an antidote. Lighter fare with comedic interpretations of undeadness like “iZombie” and “Santa Clarita Diet” have become common recently, but an old-fashioned serious take on the inevitability of becoming a zombie still proves reliably dependable.

Andy (Martin Freeman) is floating along the water in a house boat in the Australian Outback with his wife Kay (Susie Porter) and his infant daughter, scavenging for food and trying to make human contact in the aftermath of a devastating outbreak that has turned most people into zombies. The government supplies kits with instructions and materials for what to do if you are bitten, including a watch that counts down the forty-eight hours until you turn and an epi-pen of sorts to inject straight into the brain. When the unthinkable happens and the clock starts, Andy must do whatever he can to ensure that Ruth has a chance at survival.

The setting of rural Australia works very much to the film’s advantage, with seemingly endless landscapes providing little hope for salvation or a crucial alliance. The inclusion of Aboriginal characters including young Thoomi (Simone Landers), who supervises her undead father with the hope that she can rescue his soul, is a boon to the film and its contemplative approach to mortality. The focus here is so much on what comes next once death, or something much worse, is positively certain, and the way in which that guides Andy’s determination to save his daughter is immensely compelling and serves this film remarkably well.

Freeman, known primarily for his role in the Hobbit movies and on “Sherlock,” delivers a committed, unflinching performance that shows the lengths he will unhesitatingly go to for even a chance that his daughter can be allowed to grow up once he is gone. The entire experience is gripping and involving, which is even more impressive given how much of it features aimless wandering. It’s reassuring to know that, in the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse, there’s still new ground to be covered in telling the story of those who survive.


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