A pandemic sweeps across the Australian land, transforming the infected into hunger-driven cannibals. Andy and his wife, Kay, boat down river in hopes to find a safe zone for their baby daughter Rosie in attempt to avoid major populations and even the occasional infected, but when Kay falls victim to a bite aboard an apparent abandoned sailboat while salvaging for supplies, the couple have no choice but to seek help on the mainland. Desperation leads to carelessness when Andy veers off the road and crashes. He awakens to his wife having turned rabid, sustaining a bite on his arm when saving his daughter from the backseat. With maybe two days until the virus overcomes him, Andy must find a way across a mostly vacant landscape to find someone to take care of his young daughter. With time running out, Andy’s plight takes him through a barren-inhabited land where he encounters various walks with some being too unsavory and too unsuitable for his daughter’s welfare.
Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke are the first time directors behind the 2017, zombie-classified horror-drama “Cargo.” The screenplay was also penned by Ramke stemming from a remake of the directing duo’s short film of the same title. The short, that went on to be a finalist at the world’s largest short film festival, Tropfest, and went viral back into 2013, being showcased on the internets most popular genre sites. From there, the success of Howling and Ramke’s 7-minute short, encouraged by a strong fan base, was able to land equity to fund a full-length feature set in Howling and Ramke’s home country of Australia. The 2017 film added a star cast, a grittier and gut-busting bigger budget, and even landed back the main actor from the short film in a smaller, but significant role. “Cargo’s” bigger, more organic, and exalts the very essence of being human in an isolated, catastrophic, capitalism dystopia overrun with the chrysalis monsters.
English actor and star of the “Hobbit” series, Martin Freeman, lands the lead role of Andy. Freeman’s usual knack consists of being mild-mannered with a variety of facial expressions and his performance in being a desperate father in “Cargo” is no different; yet Freeman expresses another quality that consistently stays in the shadows of his other worth and that is strength. Andy might be conservative and portrayed as meek, but when push comes to shove, Andy steps to the plate and Freeman shows us his upper hand of his character’s abilities. Freeman works alongside first time child actress, Simone Landers, as Thoomi, an indigenous native offspring who relies on Andy to return her to her family while Andy relies on her to bring safety to his infant daughter. For a first time performance, Landers couldn’t have been more of a perfect fit aside the experienced “Sherlock Holmes” actor. Also co-starring in “Cargo” is Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius, Kris McQuade, and, “Crocodile Dundee’s” David Gulpili who, to quote Ben Howling who said it best, is essentially Australian actor royalty.
“Cargo” isn’t your typical genre zombie film. In fact, I wouldn’t even brandish it the label of a zombie film. Ramke’s post-epidemic story reverberates a more familiar “28 Days Later” echo that spurs more life altering contagion than the dead resurrecting to feast on the living. The infect do not run, but stumble, like a zombie and also crave living delicacies; yet, their tainted blood seeps an inhuman generated neon-orange-like sap through facial orifices that feels more like the European zombie of an organic or voodoo nature. These human-turned-monsters also bury their heads below the dirt up to their shoulders in a state of transformation or a rebirth in a sense. The essence of “Cargo’s” villainy is expanded further from Howling and Ramke’s initial short film that just introduced a milky-eyed dead head and these types of infected give “Cargo” a better, more substantial presence in an overcrowded living dead genre, but the infected are not the main villains as people, essentially one capitalistic vulture, is the real threat against the protagonists.
Umbrella Entertainment presents “Cargo,” a Netflix film, onto Blu-ray home video in a sleek full HD 1080p and presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The region B, MPEG-4 AVC encoded disc has great detail over the dry Australian countryside stocked with brown and brown vegetation, natural coloring across the board, especially in the infected’s neon-orange ooze, and an overall favorable viewing experience. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio doesn’t necessarily have a bombastic track, as it isn’t that kind of film, and the range is fairly around a mild-mannered tonality with a hiccup of gunfire and shouting in the ambient tracks. Dialogue is perfectly crystal clear in the forefront. Bonus material includes two featurettes, one entitled “Cargo: Shaping A Fragile Future” and the other “Cargo: Maternal Combat,” interviews with cast and crew, Q&A from May 2018 in Melbourne, the original Tropfest 2013 short, and the theatrical trailer. “Cargo” breathes fresh air into a threadbare genre with a sheer look into humanity’s willpower and callous.
Four camp counselors prepare a woodsy, dilapidated living quarters a couple of days before their anxious campers arrival. As the preparations seem to be going as scheduled, a sudden violent rage takes over the head counselor with the eyes turning severely bloodshot and a bloody-black ooze seeping from the tightly grit mouth. The isolated camp structure that should bring joy and excitement to young children becomes an unescapable labyrinth for the counselors when the local transient residents fall also to the murderous madness. Trust between the terrorized counselors thins as none of them have an idea how the infection transmits. Without an operational phone or vehicle, the surviving counselors can only count on themselves to flee and fend from a fury seeking to massacre them all.
When first hearing of Alberto Marini’s inaugural co-written and directed film entitled “Summer Camp,” a vivid portrait of radiant sunshine, lake canoes, bow and arrow games, and lots and lots of children campers naturally come to the forefront of mind – basically, “Salute Your Shorts” pops right into the old “cabeza,” even in front of slasher genre fave “Friday the 13th” that culturally Hollywood-ized camp counselors, transforming them into unlimitedly horny teens, subjecting campers into hapless victims, and demonizing campgrounds as death camps. And while “Summer Camp” resonates good times in the season’s solstice heat, Marini’s version of camp weaves a craft basket of intense fear.
“Summer Camp” opens to a newscasters voice over reporting that three American counselors have vanished in the wilderness of Spain and are unlikely to be alive at this point of search. The setup already denotes no resolution to the counselors’ fate who make their on screen appearance in the following scene engaged in a trust game the Italian filmmaker had constructed to appear as every horror trope imaginable – a woman running through the woods with a blindfold and hands tied behind her back, a lurking ruffian peeping the counselors from the dense tree lot, and etc. The possibility of horror themed scenarios trickle at the top of a hill, snowballing until Marini decides to sudden plop down a massive, unbreakable brick wall in front of soccer ball size snowball before reaching critical speed, size, and strength for massive destruction. Marini’s a magician by convincing viewers to believe the trick in one hand, yet subtly revealing the real trick in the other and by doing this, a flare of confusion immerses the counselors and the audience in order to keep them guessing at every step of the way.
Continuing with Marini’s script co-written with Danielle Schleif, a contrived portion of many possible triggers that causes the violent behavior almost as if Marini and Schleif used satire to highlight the absurdity of previous zombie or infected films and their numerous infected origins. “Summer Camp” leads you to believe that one of the following three, or perhaps a combination of all three, possible culprits are responsible for spawning deranged and violent behavior. Characters are purposefully shown to be unprotected to the transmission of external blood or saliva, seen drinking the mysteriously broken and recently fixed well water pipes, and being exposed to an unusual after spring pollen buildup that seems to be everywhere. Which element prompts an outbreak? Or is it all three?
When the characters are aggressively possessed, a crossbreed between an “Evil Dead” Kandarian demon possession and a hybrid-rabies strain infected from “28 Days Later” sum up a “Summer Camp’s” possessed state of being. The actors themselves wholeheartedly accepted the role, doubling and switching themselves between normalcy and lunacy with ease. While the story prides itself on being quick to action and fast paced like Danny Boyle’s 2002 film, the characters’ depth burdens no viewer and their ultimate fate will raise no brows. The bare bones character backgrounds only affix their red shirt destiny; yet, Marini has already doomed his own characters for on script stupidity and whether intentionally or not, written to be cursed never qualifies a character to be a likable hero or heroine. When Will knocks out a possessed Michelle, he quickly unlatches his belt that holds up his pants to tie her legs with it and while that seems like a smart idea in the beginning, Will stills needs a way to keep his pants up from falling to his ankles in order to run through a dark dense forest from the numerous possessed individuals lurking about, screaming their lungs out. Will also attempts to unlace one of his shoes to bound Michelle’s hands. Why?! You’re going to need a tight fitting shoe to run through the forest and…oh forget it.
Diego Boneta portrays the unluckiest of the luckiest counselors. As Will, he’s accused of murder and along with being bitten, battered, incised, and even drilled; yet, he manages to still lead the surviving charge even if the odds are against him. The physicality of the role contrasts with Boneta’s character whose short and has a vision disadvantage, but Boneta underneath the skin of his character sports an athletic build as shown from one gratuitous shirtless scene. The dynamic between Boneta, Jocelin Donahue as Christy, and Maiara Walsh as Michelle couldn’t have been any better with decoding the group’s trust issues even until the very end, especially between the tomboy with a mysterious past Michelle and the prissy and uptight Christy. Dynamics stands out as the bright point of Marini’s skeleton script that doesn’t involve many complexities as it does debunking horror tropes.
The Lionsgate distributed the rated-R DVD release of the Spanish horror film has a 16:9 widescreen presentation with a Spanish and English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio complete with Spanish and English subtitles. With an average film runtime of 84, “Summer Camp” maintains just enough endless terror to suffice an entertaining haphazard horror-comedy and that’s about all the entertainment delivered from a DVD with thin extras including only trailers and a digital ultraviolet. The lightweight nature of this release should definitely not deter a viewership, but rather “Summer Camp” should be embraced as an intense and scary gauntlet of escape and survival. A well-fought first time feature from director Alberto Marini and a good showing of faith for a talented young group of actors seeking to imprint their names into horror.