But was there enough grizzled, highly-snackable meat on the bone? Ramke and Howling make some smart choices in adapting their own work -- the twists on zombie mythology, like having the undead burrow their heads in the sand, are clever -- but their best decision was to cast Freeman. Though he had a supporting role in Edgar Wright's irreverent zombie classic Shaun of the Dead, the 46-year-old English actor isn't exactly known for popping up in horror films. (He did recently have a part in the spooky anthology film Ghost Stories.) Whether he's rolling his eyes at Ricky Gervais' boorish antics on The Office or battling a CG dragon in The Hobbit series, Freeman is a master of the measured, slow-burn reaction. He underplays everything, which comes in handy in a genre where actors are often tempted to scream their heads off. Even as zombies approach, he keeps his grimace in place.
Similarly, Simone Landers, the actress who plays Andy's eventual Aboriginal traveling companion Thoomi, manages to keep the story grounded with a subtle, winning performance. The friendship that emerges between her and Andy, one that grows out of being chained together by a lunatic isolationist, becomes the heart of the story almost by default: There's not that much going on in the margins. Ramke and Howling often pull the camera back to emphasize the desolate beauty of the land, evoking the dusty imagery of classic survival narratives like Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout but not exactly capturing the same lyrical quality. The land is barren. Does the story have to be?
As it closes in on an unavoidably bleak ending, Cargo fails to generate much suspense, choosing mood and ambiance over bullet-ridden shootouts and violent beheadings. The restraint is admirable and some will likely find the final images moving, but it's also dull. As a movie about parental anxiety and familial sacrifice, it could stand to take a page from John Krasinski's more high-octane thriller A Quiet Place, which needles its audience with precision and rushes from one set-piece to the next. Cargo is too content to stroll through the wilderness. Sometimes it's better to start running -- no matter how fast the zombies are.