It is the far future, and Planet Earth has become uninhabitable thanks to mankind's mismanagement of its resources, so what's left of humanity now lives in a huge space station in orbit around the globe. That is, if you cannot afford to leave for the far off world of Rhea, a place where many people are living out a peaceful existence on an idyllic alien landscape that remains quite similar to the way that Earth used to be. Laura Portmann (Anna-Katarina Schwabroh) is a doctor who has a sister, Arianne (Maria Boettner), who lives on Rhea and wishes to join her, but the only way she is going to do that is to take a post on one of the cargo ships headed there...
Now the Swiss movie industry wasn't exactly to science fiction what Roger Federer was to tennis, so Cargo was an oddity for being an epic in that genre while hailing from that country for a start. As it turned out, it wasn't so much an audacious reinvention of familiar ideas, more a fresh lick of paint offered to some business you may well have seen before, as in its predecessors such as Alien, The Matrix, or even 2001: A Space Odyssey, though it didn't get quite as cosmic as all that. Laura is our James Cameron-esque heroine, and as we meet her she has been accepted onto a spaceship headed for Rhea as the ship's doctor.
She is glad to get away from the hustle and bustle of the overcrowded space station, but now must face up to spending years in space to get to her destination, and with any luck a chance to settle down near her sister on the planet that everyone aspires to be on. Or do they? We learn early on of a terrorist organisation who are sabotaging machines, the technology that they see as having corrupted life on Earth, and know they will figure into the plot somewhere down the line. Really, it's best not to be aware of too much of the plot before you watch this, as the mystery and the surprises are part of the key to enjoying it, with a slight letdown by the end when you finally work out what is happening.
The events leading up to that are something of a letdown too if you're expecting a riproaring adventure, as Cargo moves at a glacial pace through eternity, emulating the passage of the ship through space. There may be tense moments, but they're overwhelmed by the feeling that there should be a whole lot more snap to proceedings; on the other hand, if you like your science fiction slow and ponderous, then this will be right up your street. The cast are somewhat anonymous, fitting into their allocations as the heroine, the baddie, the lover, and so on, but their muted acting serves the chilly mood and any big performing might have overbalanced what is a quieter, more introspective example of its style.
Certainly once you get to watching it you're not going to mistake the film for any blockbusting juggernaut, although the special effects, conceived on a fraction of many Hollywood productions in the same vein, are easily as impressive with only a few giveaways to their lower budget origins. As for the sets, once Laura is in her job making sure the crew don't succumb to anything nasty while in cryogenic sleep, she gets ample opportunity to wander the gloom and try to work out what, if anything, is prowling the corridors and storage bays with her. It sounds as if it should be fairly suspenseful, but a po-faced attitude to its story does mean a self-importance creeps in which tends to defuse the excitement. On the plus side, it looks good, holds your attention, but really should have been building to a more momentous ending than the "free yourselves from this bondage!" call to arms that we got, which is important to the characters, but oddly ho-hum to us viewers. Music by Fredrik Strömberg.