Cargo: The Long and the Short of It

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Cargo (2017, Australia), starring Martin Freeman, written by Yolanda Ramke, directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke. A Father goes to extraordinary lengths to save his toddler daughter during the Zombie Apocalypse. Currently on Netflix. Running time: 145 minutes.

Cargo (2013, Australia), starring Andy Rodoreda, written by Yolanda Ramke, directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke. A Father goes to extraordinary lengths to save his toddler daughter during the Zombie Apocalypse. Currently on YouTube. Running time: 7 minutes.

 

I have seen a number of short films. That number currently exceeds 1600. Yes, I keep a list. On that list, you will find Warner Brothers cartoon (yes, they are considered short films), great pieces from the National Film Board of Canada, early Cinema from the Masters like Chaplin, Melies, Keaton, Guy-Blache, and Lloyd, just to name a few. Also found on this list is a gem of a Zombie film called “Cargo”.

Cargo, filmed in 2013, is the story of a Father who does his best to save his toddler, in spite of being bitten during the Zombie Apocalypse. This Australian short film, directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, is one of the better and more unusual Zombie films, as it shows the story from a vastly different point of view. It’s a story told perfectly in a mere seven minutes. There is no dialog, no car chases, no shooting. Just a Father and his Daughter going for a walk together in the Outback.

So, some studio comes along and says, “Hey, great film. Let’s pad it out to 145 minutes!” So, they do.

Currently, Netflix is showing the feature-length version of Cargo, filmed in 2017, once again, in Australia. It is directed, again, by Howling and Ramke, and the screenplay is written by Yolanda Ramke, who wrote the story for the short film as well. So, at least the same creative team did both films.

 

Lily Anne or Marlee Jane McPherson-Dobbins, Martin Freeman and Simone Landers

 

When you stretch a film, the makers have to add subplots, characters and, in this case, dialog. Here, the Mother of the child has more screen time and does more than just attack her husband and spread the virus to him. We see how she became a zombie and her husband’s reaction to the situation. Also added are subplots that include a backstory for the disease making everyone a zombie, an Aboriginal girl who protects and feeds her zombie Father, and a childless couple with a violent husband.

There are also lots of scenic shots of rural Australia, which makes the film look more like a travelogue than a horror film, at times (Thank you Jean-Pascal Mattei, who pointed that out when we discussed the film via Twitter). There are many long establishing shots that show off the beauty of the Murray River, Australia’s longest river; the starkness of the Outback, where much of the action takes place; and Ayers Rock, where the film ends. All of these helps to lengthen the film. To be honest, seeing Ayers Rock with my own eyes instead of seeing it on film is on my Bucket List.

The acting is good, with an excellent performance by Simone Landers, who plays the girl Thoomi, who is caring for her Zombie father. This was her first film. The male lead is Martin Freeman. This is not the first time he has been involved in the Zombie Apocalypse, as he had a role in “Shaun of the Dead”. But he is one of those actors that I have a difficult time with. Given, the man is a major talent and has done marvelous work in television and in film. But for me, he’s Watson on the BBC series, “Sherlock”. I had a few moments in the film when I was expecting Benedict Cumberbatch to show up with the cure for the virus. But that’s my problem, not necessarily yours.

 

Ruth Venn and Andy Rodoreda, from the original.

 

Did I like the film?

It was fine. I have to admit there was a certain amount of “foot tapping” waiting for the movie to “get on with it”. Some portions were inspired, like using human bait to attract zombies for the killing and others that I won’t spoil, but the scenery shots took away from some of the tension the film could have generated. All I can say is see both and make the decision for yourself. But do see the feature first, then the short film.

“Cargo” joins a list of feature films made from shorts that seemingly suffer from being lengthened. Films like “Mama”, “Saw”, “Nine”, “Anger of the Dead”, “Rare Exports” and “Excision” all began life under twenty minutes, only to show up a few years later beyond the 90-minute mark. In most cases, it was not for the better.

Sometimes, less is more.

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About Ernie Fink

Ernie Fink has been a fan of film, mainly in the genres of horror and mystery, in equal parts, for over fifty years. His love of horror in the cinema begins with "King Kong" and in literature with Edgar Allan Poe and Bernhardt J. Hurwood.  With mysteries, he skipped from the Hardy Boys right to Hercules Poirot, only to find John Rebus and Harry Hole waiting in the wings. He has been known to read subtitles extensively, and rarely leaves a theater until the lights come up.
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