Following his turn as a poltergeist-afflicted businessman in the just-released supernatural anthology film Ghost Stories, Martin Freeman continues his horror mini-streak with this Netflix zombie tale, set in the Australian outback.
Cargo opens with the undead pandemic in full swing — or ungainly shamble, anyway — and the vast Down Under countryside pockmarked with fires which, we later discover, have been set to burn the corpses of the afflicted. Freeman and Susie Porter (Hounds of Love) play Andy and Kay, a couple who have commandeered a riverboat and are attempting to find a safe haven for themselves and their infant daughter Rosie — the “cargo” of the title —before their food runs out.
After Kay is bitten by a zombie while foraging for supplies on another craft, the family abandons the water for dry land, but Porter’s character is then killed in a car crash and, once she returns from the dead, is killed again by her husband (oof — rough day at the office). Before that second demise, Kay bites Andy, giving him the zombie virus. What ensues, and occupies most of the film, is a desperate search by Freeman’s determined but ill-equipped everyman to place Rosie in safe hands before he too turns into one of the undead.
Cargo is directed by Ben Howling and Yolande Ramke and written by Ramke, based on a 2013 short film from the duo which essentially told the same story in less than a tenth of the time. There are points during Andy’s quest when you feel the material being stretched, but not too many thanks in part to the introduction of new characters. These include Anthony Hayes’ wannabe apocalypse-profiteer Vic and young actor Simone Landers’ Thoomi, whose attempt to protect her zombified father from being burned mirrors Andy’s familial travails.
The Australian setting brings a fresh, and epic, quality to this now done-to-death genre, and the directors introduce a few nice new kinks to the zombie mythology, notably a desire on the part of the undead to literally — and hauntingly — bury their heads in the sand. But the real treat is Freeman, who makes the most of his lead role with a performance in turns stoic and heartbreakingly desperate as Andy tries to save a precious life in this land of the dead. B