Film. Will Netflix revolutionize the genre film market ? Cargo a “sentimental” and Australian zombie movie brings a beginning of answer. Explanations.
By Clément Levassort
Cargo begins with a highly visceral sequence immersing us in medias res in action with blurred and bumped images. The development struggles to be done but we end up distinguishing two passengers in the front of a vehicle. A shrill sound of tinnitus floats in the air, a man sitting in the passenger seat awakes with difficulty while at his side a woman swings her head as dazed.
“The sensation of the last "Tropfest"”
Then a focus is made on her face.White lifeless eyes, pale complexion: it’s a zombie ! Panicked the man undid his belt and ejected himself from the cockpit that held him prisoner. The music stops suddenly, no more danger… For now.
You might blame me for revealing Cargo’s introduction. But this is not here about the film but about the short film released in 2013 and whose new production Netflix is directly inspired. Also directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, he created the sensation at the Tropfest, a famous Australian short film festival, and has been seen more than 5 million times on Youtube. The story of a man, who was in advance condemned by a deadly infection and had to find a way to save his one year old daughter within 48 hours, otherwise he would become a man-eating zombie, had quite a potentiel. Besides, the story takes place in the Australian desert and instantly summons the post-apocalyptic sets of Georges Miller’s Mad Max saga, which is ideal for portraying a world that is going down due to a destructive virus. Alas between the short and the long film something has been lost.
Don’t get me wrong, Cargo is not an unpleasant experience, but it’s a forgettable movie and it’s too bad because the pitch’s potential could have ended in a much more exciting result. There is no intention of realization in the composition of frames or camera movements that do not tell anything, and it is not photography, clean but any, that saves the game. However, if we look at Australian genre cinema, we can see that this desert scenery has a real expressive potential, for example in Razorback (1984) by Russel Mulcahyor or in The Walkabout (1971) by Nicholas Roeg. In both cases the Australian desert is treated as a character in its own right and loads these movies with a mystical and poetic aura hard to find a Cargo. We must wait for the last third and the rare sequences with the aborigines to finally see this dimension exploited.
Reed Hasting, creator and PDG of Netflix, argues that the company’s strategy is to invest in international productions and “participate to a global deepening of the knowledge of each other and to a better understanding between cultures.” Yet we are far from Peter Weir’s sensory cinema (The Last Wave, 1977), who captured the mystical power of Australian territory with artistic direction and an inspired use of music, giving substance to the invisible forces of Nature.
Cargo has the form of a long episode of television series with its coherent narrative arcs, its dark adult tone, its decent acting, a kind of “TV movie” of superior qualities, but certainly not a cinema movie. The logic of Netflix would be to produce many original content and leave some creative freedom to its artists, so that eventually some jewels emerge. We are still far from it. The only Netflix movies to have come out so far have mostly benefited from authors’ aura and know-how from the cinema industry, such as Jung-Ho Bong with Okja (2016) or Alex Garland with Annihilation (2018). We are still waiting for a new talent « made in Netflix » which will contradict our claims. But when ?
-> Cargo by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke with Martin Freeman, currently on Netflix.