Cargo (2018)

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In the dusty outback of Australia, ‘Sherlock’ star Martin Freeman tries desperately to survive, in what could only be described as bleak conditions. Adapted from a short film idea by the same creators, ‘Cargo’ does feel like it a little weighed down by a full length run-time but it doesn’t stop it being a gritty portrayal of fighting against the odds.

A virus has swept over the world and anyone infected has just 48 hours of human life left, before they turn into flesh seeking zombies. Andy (Martin Freeman) treks the countryside Down Under carrying his baby girl Rosie, trying to find a hospital to combat the effects he carries with him.

What stands out strongest within this post apocalyptic plot, is the character studying. Yolande Ramke writes a powerfully subtle zombie flick by focusing on the behaviours of its characters, also directing with Ben Howling they ensure the movie doesn’t fill us with easy-to-do blood splattered gore or adrenaline pumped tension. They work nicely together in really making you feel for Andy and understand not just him but the people he interacts with from start to finish. Good zombie films are always showing us the true monsters are found in us when people do the nastiest things to stay alive and this feature is no exception.

I must admit that there are times when a little shot more of tension would have been welcome. The 1 hour 40ish length does have a few points where it feels stretched out and having a couple of scenes whittled down would have kept the dramatic punch alive; as if mirroring the narrow time frame Andy has to survive. Also, aside from the clever and well written/acted character work, this isn’t exactly a film that demolishes the genre, if you’ve seen one or two then you’ve seen this one as well.

Aboriginal life gets a spotlight and there’s a good moment when a trapped Aborigine comments on the sickness but relays it back to how their people, their way of living is all but destroyed by white people, Australia has indeed left this tribe of rich culture to struggle in the background. It’s important that this film highlights them and moments including an Aborigine girl are soft, mystical ones that give the film an original spark.

‘Cargo’ may be a film that would be more tense as a thirty minute outing but there’s no denying that Freeman, newcomer Simone Landers and the writing/directing masters have provided Netflix and us a bold social commentary laced with the gnash of zombie thrills.

7/10

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The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

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The grand ideal of hope is positively put to the test in this bleak and amazingly creative take on the zombie genre. Sure there’s things we’ve seen before, but overall it feels tonally different and has issues about life and survival that never felt more engaging, thanks to seeing them from the side of this young girl.

Dystopian England is where we meet a base of soldiers and wheelchair bound children locked up at night. During the day, they are taught by Helen (Gemma Arteton) who is liked by Melanie (Sennia Nanua), one of the children and definitely the smartest and most special of the bunch. As the army location is put under threat, a small core group leave to find human contact elsewhere but with fungi-infected crowds everywhere, their journey is tough.

What I liked most about this film was the huge feeling of tension/unease in the landscape presented. The majority of the movie is very intense and it’s almost as if you’re there with this small party of 5 trekking through a dangerously different London. It’s true to say that movie monster movies get tiresome, vampires and zombies have been done a lot so thankfully this story gives a grand spin on the latter and makes the walking dead a collective you want to find out more about.

Both the screenplay and the novel it’s based on were penned at the same time by M.R. Carey who injects a sense of fear but also wonder in having us focus on infected children and their possible cure for us. In a great way, this film has made me want to buy the book to read it and see what differs and what is similar and just to immerse myself into the world all over again. What is unique and good about the plot is that we stay with Melanie and see her discovery of humans and the city, she’s confident, inquisitive and likable and in fact, though people at times have villainous streaks, they’re not baddies, it’s just them trying to understand the mess.

I couldn’t leave this review without praising the efforts of Cristobal Tapia de Veer, his score/music effects for this British apocalyptic drama has such a reverb around the speakers, the opening scene with his work over the top is fantastically rich, intense and sets the mood just right. I already loved his sounds from the great TV series ‘Utopia’ and that chorus sound of electronica is felt again with this film.

Nanua is a blistering break-through in her debut role as Melanie. She quite literally eats up the screen and ensures her dramatic eagerness to learn is felt which keeps us on her side throughout. Arteton brings emotional depth to what could have been a bland jolly teacher. She’s interested in Melanie and wants her to thrive which is truly felt by the time we rest upon the ending. Paddy Considine starts with a rough exterior but gladly brings dimensions to his sergeant character, as does Glenn Close playing Dr. Caldwell, who is more than just the needle-happy doctor.

It’s a brilliant British film with plenty of frightening imagery to explore directed with imagination and realism by Colm McCarthy. Zombies have never felt more alive.

7.5/10

The Shallows (2016)

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Once again, it’s time to not go into the water. Move aside Bruce from ‘Jaws’ because this big guy seems to be peeved and stalking shallow waters making life difficult for a holidaying Texan. The threat keeps at a unnerving high for the most part if not sadly dissipating during the last act.

Medical student Nancy (Blake Lively) is travelling to a secret beach where her mother once sat pregnant with her. She’s there to surf but soon the water becomes a dangerous place as a blood-thirsty great white shark circles the shallows. There’s only a buoy or mass of rocks for Nancy to survive on and the waiting game grows worryingly tense.

After glimpsing a Spielberg like opening that establishes the setting and menace to come, we meet young American Nancy who had hoped to spend a beach day with her friend but now gets some alone time after the mate bails. She’s a fine enough character, enough in the sense that you like her and do root for her which is all a survival thriller film can ask for.

Jaume Collet-Serra uses his mix of horror and thriller directing background well to give this movie enough suspense and bone-rattling unease as we sit waiting for the inevitable beast to strike. Sharks get a bad rep, none truly seek killing humans as a sport so we know this predator is bad news when it actively hunts down surfers for food and that means poor central lady Nancy is on the menu. Collet-Serra ensures that the majority of the film has a taut feel and the stunning location captured by Flavio Labiano ends up becoming sun drenched yet scary.

It’s an interesting watch, just for the fact alone of watching this capable woman suffer yet attempt to stay strong and smart in a situation most, if not all of us would fail in. That adrenaline of survival is always an entertaining watch because it makes us ask “what if?”, what if I ended up in that problematic scenario and that’s the power of good cinema, to immerse the audience which this film does well.

It’s a gimmick and been done in other ways before, but I quite liked the use of social media pics and video call communication appearing on the screen, like visual bites helping the movie look a little glossy and different before the watery kick of danger sets in. The other characters however small are also interesting enough in how they advance or break apart the hope of Nancy’s survival. Oh and I can’t do this review without mentioning the awesome and somewhat cute sidekick of the summer: Steven Seagull.

On the weaker end of the scale, the final act is messed up by an over use of CGI, from glowing jelly-fish which somehow appear just to help Nancy against the shark, and the shark itself gets seen to much. Like the curse of fake looking Bruce from the classic 1975 feature, this villain becomes an almost laughable vision as it attacks more and more. Also, the end in how stuff is resolved feels way less than solid than everything that came before.

Blake Lively aka piece of meat on some rocks is brilliant in this. I don’t believe I’ve seen her in anything else so this has made me hope to see her in other projects because as a near solo movie she carries off the plot greatly. The emotion and weakening progression is truly felt as she makes Nancy scrape and bleed through the ringer.

Begins well and has a meaty, tense middle but a lot of lucky moments and a weak ending gives the film a general popcorn, silly feel which is not a bad thing, just I felt the film could have been grittier and better.

6/10