Cargo review: A middle of the road zombie movie

Cargo photo Ian Routledge/Netflix via Media Center
Cargo photo Ian Routledge/Netflix via Media Center /

While it’s a more thoughtful zombie adaptation than most, Cargo fails to register much dramatic impact.

Zombies have taken over the mainstream interest in a way that no one could have ever predicted. With the success of movies like Zombieland and TV’s The Walking Dead, the zombie genre went from a niche area of interest to one of media’s most popular subjects. I will say some of this rise in popularity as led to fatigue, which has especially been the case with the latter seasons of Walking Dead. 

Trying to end that fatigue is Netflix’s latest original film Cargo. The film is set in dystopia Australia, with the zombie plague seemingly taking over the world. When survivor Andy gets bit, he must go on a desperate mission to find someone to watch his baby daughter before he turns.

Cargo photo Ian Routledge/Netflix via Media Center /

Cargo has very admirable ambitions, with this easily being one of the quietest and more character-driven zombie films in some time. That being said, the execution isn’t quite there for this to be more than an admirable effort.

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The biggest impact the film packs is with its performances. Martin Freeman is certainly a fan favorite, but its nice to see him working with more dramatic material. As Andy, Freeman is a believable every man who encompasses the weight of trying to save a loved ones life amidst his own death. Cargo is at its best when that conflict is the focus, as some quietly chilling moments act as a great showcase for Freeman’s acting ability.

Cargo is at its best when it’s at its most human. I give screenwriter and co/director Yolanda Ramke (who along with director Ben Howling also made the original short this is based on), credit for trying to give every human character film some complexion, allowing audiences to see the multitude of ways the outbreak has damaged people. The direction thankfully never overplays its hand dramatically, never drowning out the drama with obnoxious score or heavy-handed filmmaking.

It’s a shame that those dramatic moments never are as earned as they should be, with the film missing the boat where it counts. Like a lot of short films turned into features, the story feels stretched thin. Much of the narrative doesn’t progress naturally, with the script featuring many contrivances to try to create something more cinematic. This is especially the case with Anthony Haynes’ character Vic, whose continuous reprisal as a villain feels more gimmicky than genuine.

Cargo photo Ian Routledge/Netflix via Media Center
Cargo photo Ian Routledge/Netflix via Media Center /

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As far as Cargo being a zombie film, I think the movie drops the ball in that aspect. While I don’t mind the lack of zombie action, many of the characters and their decision-making is laughably bad at points when it comes to their survival. The initial incident that kicks off the plot is the type of illogical thinking that’s more akin to a bad horror film than a meditative drama. I also think this film does very little to make some of its more clichéd arcs feel original.

Cargo is more of a modest mix bag than a successful zombie survival flick, but I do credit the noble intentions of all involved. I am sure with some more fine-tuning and experience, this duo could make a great movie in the future.

Cargo is now playing on Netflix.