Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s 2013 short-film ‘Cargo’ has garnered over 14 million views on YouTube since it premiered at the Tropfest Film Festival in Australia. The short film boasts an emotionally provocative 7 minutes, showcasing a true sense of flair in its storytelling with its minimal dialogue, visceral imagery, and the physicality of its performers. Four years later, Howling and Ramke up the ante with a feature-length remake of their successful short, introducing a catalogue of new characters and an intricately assembled narrative that intertwines the main theme of paternal survival from its predecessor with a longer, more thought-provoking sub-plot.
Where the short film starts at the heart of the narrative, the elongated version takes more of a gradual approach in introducing its story. Living safely on a riverboat secure from the suggested zombie-infested world that surrounds them, Andy (Martin Freeman), Kay (Susie Porter) and their infant daughter seem oblivious to the dangers that are rapidly approaching. They survive by scavenging supplies from abandoned safe-houses and residing in rural locations. But when Kay is bitten by a member of the infected following a scavenging hunt, Andy has 48-hours to find a cure. But it’s only until an undead Kay takes a chomp at Andy’s arm that he realises the danger, and importance, of prolonging the inevitable. With only 48-hours until he reaches the same fate, Andy must find a suitable guardian for his infant daughter. Unfortunately for him, there’s no creche in the zombie apocalypse.
The notion of paternal failure, the complete helplessness in ensuring the safety of your child, is perhaps no more so tested than in Howling and Ramke’s story. In this case, these fears are brought to life by a physical and provocative performance by Martin Freeman, who manages to evoke a true sense of dread and anguish whilst also maintaining a false projection of tranquillity for his daughter. Credit must also be paid to an equally as impressive performance by debutant Simeone Landers, whose portrayal of a young Aborigine in search of her missing family helps prioritise the prevalence of camaraderie in the post-apocalyptic environment she finds herself in. This is a film that is anchored by its performances, all of which helps to heighten the emotions in this drama-leading narrative.
The glaring issue, however, is the process of elongating the source material into a feature-length picture. Where the short-film packs a serious emotional punch with its aforementioned visceral imagery and minimal dialogue, the remake stretches itself out in a way that omits the heightened tension that the original so expertly crafted. Yet this is a fault in the cinematic process of developing and enhancing an initial idea, and not in the filmmaking itself, particularly when considering Howling and Ramke’s inexperience as feature-length directors. I feel confident that the duo will go on to helm a number of successful projects, especially in their approach to rejuvenating genres that have seemingly run their course in the likeminded way ‘Cargo’ challenges the zombie-apocalypse narrative.
‘Cargo‘ is currently streaming on Netflix. Take a couple hours out of your day and give it a watch.
Directed by: Ben Howling & Yolanda Ramke
Starring: Martin Freeman, Susie Porter, Anthony Hayes, Caren Pistorius