Andy (Martin Freeman) has found himself in a sticky situation as society in Australia has broken down almost completely thanks to an epidemic of a new disease that turns people into flesh and blood-craving zombies. In the search for somewhere safe for he and his family of wife Kay (Susie Porter) and young daughter Rosie, they have wound up on a houseboat travelling down the river through the countryside, and every person they see by the shore is unfriendly, showing them there is nowhere they can settle, they must keep moving. One day, Andy catches sight of a yacht lying partially submerged in the water and investigates, which will prove his downfall...
Australia was not immune to the lure of the zombie movie, as this expansion of a short by directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke (who penned the screenplay) revealed. Cargo had more pretensions to be art, however, as it took a very picturesque view of the bleak Australian landscape and added in elements of Aboriginal culture to serve up a particular flavour of cinema from Down Under, from Walkabout to Wolf Creek, though alas not as accomplished as those breakout hits. The problem was this took itself so seriously that there was no room for even a whiff of humour, and the grinding, stony-faced seriousness of the production did wear on the patience as a result.
Freeman was fine, applying his familiar mannerisms to what amounted to a road movie through the Australian Outback with a baby on his back, but don't expect him to deliver any comedy as he had proved adept at before. Everyone else was fair without making a huge impression, since they didn't have enough screen time to get to know anyone: the closest we came was with the maniacally driven Vic (Anthony Hayes) who has his own ideas about how to survive this form of apocalypse, and the more we got to know him the less we wanted to get to know him, with his prisoner wife and habit of exterminating the zombies by kidnapping the indigenous folks he traps to use as bait.
The most intriguing element were those Aborigines, who were coping with the breakdown of (white) society by returning to their old ways of existing in Australia as it was before the settlers (or invaders) arrived. This was the best aspect, which had you baffled as to why Howling and Ramke didn't have them in the leads and leave the whitefellas to feast on each other's guts instead of essentially placing them as part of the surroundings to be interacted with by Andy and the Caucasian characters as if this was a science fiction flick and the Aborigines were the space aliens the Earth people were forced to make peace with since they knew more about survival in this location than anyone brought up in so-called civilisation would have anything close to an affinity with. Thus we can tell the whites are doomed.
Certainly Kay is, as when she explored the yacht herself she met with the nasty in the hold and suffered a bloody bite for her trouble. We are told that anyone so bitten is given forty-eight hours to live, or at least until they turn zombie, and as there is no cure Andy is left trying to make his wife's last two days as painless as possible. Some hope of that - and she bites him too, when in her altered state. There follows a race against time for Andy to get Rosie to safety, which is assisted by a young Aborigine girl, Thoomi (Simone Landers), who he rescues as she has convinced herself that her afflicted father remains somehow himself under his stumbling, ravening exterior, which takes Andy some degree of persuasion on his part to take her mind away from the hopeless cases and onto the potential for a future, like his daughter. All very laudable, but the snail's pace Cargo unfolded at was difficult to get along with, and coupled with no real surprises in a very oversubscribed field zombie fans could do better, the rest left with the scenery to look at.