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A horror story told mostly in broad daylight and putting little to no emphasis on the horror aspect, Yolanda Ramke's Cargo is perhaps the finest “zombie” movie I've seen. Ever. In fairness, most of my experience with zombie movies are either cheesy comedy movies (see Aaah! Zombies!!) or cheesy action movies (see Resident Evil), so I went into this movie with low expectations. I've dabbled in the ridiculously popular The Walking Dead and watched passively-through the edges of my vision while playing video games—a few episodes of Fear the Walking Dead and frankly, they've never struck me as intensely enjoyable. Which makes this dramatic thriller (I referred to it as horror previously, because zombies are always horror to me, but technically it is labeled a thriller, which fits better I suppose) a unique eye-catcher for me.
In all honesty, I sat down to watch Cargo not even realizing what I was watching. At first glance, it seemed like a post-apocalypse survival movie (which it is) and as the characters slowly revealed that humans were changing I optimistically said “Oh boy! Mutant hunter-killers, my favorite!” Only to be pitifully stricken, immediately following the tragedy of the first attack, with the realization that these were not horrifying military drones designed to hunt and murder entire populations, but rather zombies, no doubt due to some environmental lab experiment scare. Contrarily, I will state that Cargo did a lot of things I did not expect and is well worth the watching, and anyone not wanting spoilers for “perhaps the best zombie movie of all time” should stop now and just go watch it. Also, I'd probably call this delightful treat of a touching thriller a five out of five experience. It's got great audio work, fantastic storytelling, unique monsters (both human and ghost), and some sequences that threw me for a bit of a loop.
With that aside, spoiler-rific plot summary incoming!
Ramke wastes no time setting up the world with any scenes similar to those presented in the Resident Evil series or other like zombie movies. Cargo begins, oddly enough, on a houseboat. A houseboat that, from what the characters seem to suggest, may well have hosted them until the end of time if they rationed correctly, fished well, and got a bit lucky. Well, actually they do note that they have no idea how long the boat's engines will serve them...and you can't just get lucky every three months and hope for optimal survivability. But hey, it seems pretty idyllic. Except, of course, that the movie begins with them on quarter rations, with enough food to last maybe a week. That is: Andy, Kay (Blue), and little Rosie, their infant daughter. Also, while leisurely cruising down this river, hoping to encounter an intact civilization, they happen across another family, with a protective father carrying a revolver, who threatens Andy from across the river. Lovely people, truly.
Well, how fortunate that apparently, another family took to the rivers to survive whatever this terrible pandemic apocalypse is. The very next day, after Kay stresses Andy out about their apparent lack of food, our hero happens across a small leisure boat (he calls it a yacht, and I'm sure that's correct, but I always fancy yachts as LARGE boats, this seemed more like a compact house boat) which happens to contain three months worth of rations, a bottle of what I gather must be a fine wine, and a closet that definitely has something in it but won't be brought up beyond the hero scampering away from the boat as quickly as possible, loot in hand, when he hears the door jar open.
We all know what happens next, we have to know, there is no doubt in the viewer's mind, that there will be a reason to return to that yacht. After revealing his glorious haul of food and luxury to his wife, Andy's significant other asks if there wasn't a razor on the yacht, pointing out the overgrowth of his, as he puts it, rugged facial hair. Well, he didn't look. He likes his hair so he was uninterested. As such, a bit later on when the noble husband is asleep, the wife, wanting only the best for her family, swims out to the yacht, finds a razor, and is attacked by whatever was lurking in the yacht's closet. This leads into a reveal that apparently, some spectacular government that we will never learn anything about, has distributed survival packs across the land...survival packs meaning...execution packs? The family has some emergency plastic boxes that feature a set of wrist straps that play host to a 40-hour timer, wrist restraints, mouth guards, and what appears from the movie's action to be a self-execution pen, intended to somehow dismantle the user's brain, though we never see this applied.
With less than 48 hours of humanity left, if she is infected (Andy talks like there's a chance that zombie bites don't lead to infection), and less than three hours until she bleeds out due to the bite (which is not a very accurate estimate based on the fact that Andy and Kay never reach a hospital in the next 48 hours), Andy and Kay take Rosie onto the land, something the man of houseboat refused to do until mortal peril impaired his judgement (a wise, less emotionally attached man, would have sacrificed his wife, as she insisted he do, in order to spare himself and their child...but really, who could make that decision?).
Within the next several scenes of the movie, we see a near escape from a zombie, the orange mucusy goo that represents the first signs of change (I'm not certain what it is, but it's to do with decaying flesh maybe?), the first seizure-like events of the changing process in Kay, an idiotic swerve to avoid a zombie which crashes their newly salvaged car, impales Kay, and knocks Andy unconscious, and finally the sequence that sets the movie's action into a final timer. When Andy wakes up from his brief concussion induced nap, he finds a note sprawled in his wife's blood on the passenger seat reading save her. He tries to wake Kay (because what man is not an idiot in this precise situation where intelligence and survival tact are key), finds that her face is covered in the mucusy goo that apparently marks the final turning to unlife (it is similar to undeath, and I made it up just now, no one uses these terms in the movie), attempts to scramble out of the car to save his precious cargo (yes, the cargo is obviously Rosie) and is bitten by his now undead wife.
Strapping himself with a 40-hour timer and slinging Rosie into a backpack carrier, Andy sets out for the nearest settlement, briefly encounters a young local girl who has been keeping her zombie father alive (very Walking Dead if you ask me) named Thoomi, and escapes to the remains of a local town. This town is home to Etta, a former school teacher (who, in fact, mentored Thoomi before the country turned back over to their native ways to survive the pandemic) that helps to tend to Rosie and the succumbing Andy. She advises him to hide the bite so he doesn't wind up like so many of the other “sick"—which appears to entail being double speared through the head and chest then burned—and recommends that he meet with the local tribal folk if he intends for Rosie to have any sort of life after he passes. Why he couldn't leave Rosie with Etta, no one knows, but apparently Andy has a bit of a racist streak, or at the very least a distrust of tribal customs, because instead of seeking out “the hunters” he instead turns toward the river, hoping to meet the white family that literally threatened his life if he tried to come ashore and speak with them. Needless to say, he doesn't immediately arrive at the river but instead is interrupted by a man in need, who perhaps turns out to be the greatest villain of the movie.
You'd think in a movie where zombies are roaming the world, the greatest villain would be the infestation itself, or in a movie where the hero is showing signs of becoming a beast that is hunted relentlessly to cleanse the land, the hunters would be the villain. But no, it's Vic. This is fairly readily apparent following first introductions. After using Vic's truck to pull a gas canister off of the fallen man, Andy is brought to a nearby compound, where we meet Vic's “wife”, Rainey, who is extremely reluctant to come into contact with our new friend. After only a minute's rest in the compound, Rainey (apparently Lorraine, and given that no one except Andy ever calls her this, I have to assume this is a common nickname that anyone in this situation could have translated, similar to how Vic has to be Victor and Andy has to be Andrew) is left to take care of Rosie as Andy is dragged off with Vic to be, as he puts it, “all in.”
What is Andy in for exactly? Zombie hunting. The kind that's probably illegal in some places. Like shooting wild animals over feeders. Vic, the clever man, has captured some of the locals (particularly Thoomi, and a local wise man called “the Clever Man”, both of whom we very recently saw wandering the wilderness, meaning Vic set all of this up in a 12-hour or so period, while also getting stuck under a gas can-look, no movie is without its holes) and is using them to attract the undead. Vic and reluctant Andy, blow some holes in the zombies, and the madman collects all of the zombies' worldly possessions, with a line of thought something akin to “he who controls the spice, controls universe” but...in a very broken economic situation where “the spice” is just common junk (pocket watches, rings, wallets) and the universe is actually just the Earth following an economic collapse revolving around zombies destroying literally everything, the sort of collapse you have to assume we won't recover from for at least a couple of decades. Vic's in it for the long game folks.
Meanwhile, we see that Rosie is covered in Andy's goo, Rainey cleans this up and discreetly mentions it to Andy. Taking note of the time he has left, and the relative safety (if insanity) that Vic has set up here, Andy sets out that night, while everyone sleeps, to put that execution pen from the emergency kits to work. After hesitating once or twice to save his daughter from his transformation, Rainey shows up, Rosie in tow, and tells Andy this place is not as safe as he thinks, explaining that Vic left her real husband and all the other local workers locked in an office to die. Andy resolves to take Rainey and Rosie away from Vic and hopes to find somewhere they can be safe. Needless to say, Vic wanders in on this situation and clobbers Andy with the butt of his rifle.
Now we see the true glory of a friendship formed. Andy awakens to find himself inside of Vic's bait cages, chained to poor young Thoomi. Using some pulley and zombie physics I'll never be able to figure out, Andy and Thoomi escape from the cage, break into Vic's compound, rescue Rainey and Rosie, steal Vic's keys—potentially waking the gun-crazed loon—gets Rainey shot as she valiantly attempts to stop the manic Vic, buying the others a broken-hearted moment to escape-and eventually sever their chains, after of course finding out that “the Clever Man” had already been rescued, eliminating any need to steal the keys except for the removal of their binding chain, which seems rather pointless anyway. The remainder of the movie can be summed up in such terms as: Thoomi's father dies, the family by the river has had an encounter and the father will soon turn, to spare his family the father kills them and then himself, Andy and Thoomi return to the tribe, in a moment of brilliance Andy ties some meat to a stick, gives it to Thoomi, and uses his insatiable craving for raw flesh to become a pack mule for Rosie and Thoomi following the collapse of his mind, and Thoomi and Rosie arrive safely with her tribe (after a scuffle with Vic that finally ends his life). Oh, and all of Thoomi's fantasies about the Clever Man being able to save the souls of the undead were just fantasies, the Clever Man himself stabs Andy. But only following a fantastic small sequence of friendship and comfort that one simply must witness to understand and appreciate.
As I stated before, this was an amazing movie, despite being a “terrible zombie movie” I sat through the entirety of the flick enraptured and enthralled, and in the end, I was touched on a surprising level (while my wife sat beside me and said “Why is she doing that, was that important, I was too busy working on my thesis to pay attention and now I need answers.”). This one's definitely one of the best (which I feel like I said about Hush, and iBoy, and will probably say about Anon).