Welcome to Horror Movie Month here at Late to the Theater! Once a year we focus on one of our absolute favorite things, horror movies! For the entire month of October we’ll review at least two movies a week, some old, some new, and usually fitting into a weekly theme. So pop the corn, pour yourself a glass of whatever, and come along for the ride! I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers!
Hola, and welcome to The Family That Slays Together Week here at Late to the Theater, a week dedicated to – you guessed it– families in peril! We’re looking at movies that imperil those most complex of situations, the family, in apocalypses both zombie and not. So sit back, relax, and stop touching your brother/sister/cousin/dog/whatever or so help me I will turn this car RIGHT AROUND.
As always, There Will Be Spoilers below the cut.
The zombie apocalypse (or ‘zompocalypse’ if you’re in a rush) genre has largely gone stale for me. It’s a trend that originated in the 60s in horror films, toodled around in genre films for a few decades, went mainstream in the early 2000s, and just never really went away. It’s a formula that always boils down to if there are zombies, then there is a race to survive during civilization’s downfall. Nowadays, for an entry to catch my notice there needs to be something extra, some additional element to get me intrigued.
Something like a baby.
A baby being carried through the Australian outback, one of the most unforgiving of natural environments, during a zombie pandemic — I’m listening.
A baby being carried by a father whose time is running out due to a zombie bite — Now you have my attention.
A baby being carried by Martin Freeman — YOU HAVE ME.
Cargo is the kind of Netflix Original that does the streaming service credit – it’s a brilliant slow burn of a film that doesn’t pull emotional punches, but neither does it punish the audience for being invested. The filmmakers push the audience just to the edge of their nerves, but honor that emotional investment with sharp, witty writing and intelligent characterizations. The entire arc of the film draws the viewer in from the get-go, and there isn’t a wasted moment building the arc. That said, this isn’t the kind of zombie movie where characters sprint down hallways or have near-misses constantly. The viewer’s heart pounds because of the incrementally rising tension as the protagonist’s time runs out, not because of jump scares.
As a study in the sacrifices required of parenthood, it perfectly illustrates, in a series of moments, the realization parents have that their children will (or at least should) outlive them. Sure, most parents come to that realization eventually, but to have the concept distilled so perfectly to a story about survival, and then to put a time limit on it, is masterful.
Andy and Kay (Susie Porter) and their one-year-old, Rosie, are surviving the pandemic on a decrepit houseboat. Tempers are strained as we see in an early scene where Andy snaps at Kay, but given the situation, it’s understandable. Not only did Andy and Kay luck out in finding the houseboat and some much-needed supplies, their baby is the quietest baby ever.
Arguably, Rosie’s silent cooperation during this whole romp stretches credibility, but a few friends have told me that their kids were also very quiet, so I will defer to the experts in this matter.
Parallel to Andy and Kay’s story is the story of Thoomi (Simone Landers), an indigenous girl whose father has been turned. She cares for him, keeping him safe and also at a safe distance, in the hope of finding a cure. Thoomi’s tribe is looking for her, and she manages to keep clear of them as they sweep the outback, both searching for her and killing any zombies they find.
Meanwhile, investigating a wrecked yacht for Andy and Kay turns out to be a mixed bag – they find a whole lot of supplies, but also a zombie, who promptly bites Kay. In hope of finding a cure, they leave the houseboat and head toward a nearby military installation.
The rest of the film contains fairly standard zompocalyptic fare – fights at close quarters, the question of whom to trust, people struggling to survive, and sneaking past the dozing zombies. However, beautiful cinematography and a masterful use of tension keep the viewer’s focus to a pinpoint. The world the family navigates proves dangerous for many reasons, as they find when they encounter another family who are uninterested in banding together. There’s a sly nod to toxic masculinity in that encounter that is explored later, when a father decides the best thing for his family is just to kill his wife and daughters and then himself.
Kay’s illness catches up with her, and now Andy is on his own.
The moral conundrum is beautifully crafted – will Andy find someone he can leave Rosie with before he turns himself? Should he kill himself now, while he still has the mental capacity, or wait for just a few more hours in case he finds help? An unattended baby in the outback is about as safe as a balloon in a cactus farm, and that’s withOUT zombies.
And as a jaded fan aware that horror movies don’t always have happy endings, I worried the whole time: ‘Is this movie going to go too far? Is it really going to show zombies eating a baby?’
I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that no babies are eaten or otherwise damaged in this film.
Couched within the theme of family sacrifice is a clever subtext about the dangers posed by fracking, as that caused the zompocalypse in the first place. The indigenous people imply that fracking, along with all the other environmental disasters that colonizers brought to Australia, created an imbalance between humanity and nature, thus releasing the zombie disease.
Overall, I can’t recommend Cargo highly enough. It was a great film and it’s a solid win for Netflix, who has all but saturated themselves with content. Everything about it sang, and the ending – Oh! the ending! – left me in tears.
That’s it for today’s entry in The Family That Slays Together! Thanks so much for reading. Keep an eye out later in the week for our next entry: the Duffer Brothers’ Hidden, starring Alexander Skarsgard! Toodles!