I’m not a particular fan of Zombie movies, or any horror for that matter, but I do love any cinematic genre when it’s done well. For example Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead are both brilliant and at the less comedic end of the spectrum 28 Days Later and the Korean film Train to Busan are also real favourites. The first twenty minutes of World War Z are good too. I’ve seen most of the classic Romero pictures but not for thirty years and while the fifteen year old me enjoyed being grossed out, I’ve felt no need to revisit them.
Still, it’s best to educate yourself because you never know. Thanks to these movies I do keep a baseball bat by the front door and I know to go for the head.
The most interesting aspect of Zombie films, in my opinion, is the notion of loved ones turning on one another, either because they’ve turned into flesh hungry monsters or because they are afraid of becoming so and need to protect themselves from those that have. Take the heartbreaking moment in the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead where the film totally forgets its a comedy and the protagonist has to kill his own mother after she has been infected. It is highly emotional stuff. Many of the strongest scenes in these types of films swing around this conceit and there are two new movies that have dropped online this week that explore the idea in fresh and compelling ways.
The first is Netflix’s Cargo in which a young father has to protect his baby daughter from zombies in the Australian outback. This is a bit of a spoiler as this isn’t set up until about twenty minutes in but it is actually the main draw of the film; he himself gets bitten and knows that soon he will have to find a way of keeping her safe from him. Playing a similar move to A Quiet Place, the movie makes an already terrifying situation mortifying by putting a tiny, defenceless infant in the middle of it. To many this may be unbearable to watch but if you can handle it this makes Cargo a heartrending but powerful and rewarding film. Key to its success is Martin Freeman whose central performances is just brilliant and totally sells the fantasy/horror plot. In fact the performances, few as there are, are all strong. Adolescent actor Simone Landers is wonderful and even the twin babies that play one year old Rosie have such an amazing chemistry with Freeman that I thought the must be his own kids.
Like a lot of Zombie flicks there is metaphor here and events can be read in a couple of ways. The most immediate parallels are between the protagonist’s plight and that of all parents. This may be a parable on any father’s responsibility to raise their children in a way that prevents them from coming to any harm and how, to echo Phillip Larkin’s famous line, even with the best will some damage can come from them. (If you don’t know the poem I’m referring to then google the words ‘larkin quote parents’ and you’ll get the idea.)
Cargo also has wider comments to make about dominant patriarchy and imperialism. The setting allows the indigenous people of Australia to play a very significant part and the zombie outbreak could be interpreted as a representation of broken western capitalism, with aboriginal society being a more pure and sustainable way of life.
Approached with a surface reading or with greater analysis Cargo is a brilliant piece of work from first time directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke. It brings spirit to what could be seen as a slowly dying, staggering genre and is certainly the only living dead movie to have brought me to tears.
Also out on iTunes, after a one week stop in cinemas, is The Cured. This film examines the idea of life after undeath, working on the premise that some zombies have been healed. Rarely have these screen monsters had to face up to the way they have treated those around them but here you have people coping with the guilt of what they have done while they were infected. The Cured is built around the struggle to forgive and forget, on the part of both the predator and the prey.
The film centres on Senna, a young Irish man who is one of the cured of the title. Following his rehabilitation he is released into the care of his sister-in-law and his nephew. This is a domestic situation with some stress attached to it as it becomes clear very early on that he has eaten his own brother; his hosts’ husband and father. Tortured by guilt and shunned by an unforgiving and fearful society he gets mixed up with a group of ex-zombie terrorists who are violently fighting back against the prejudice and hatred they are now living with. The setting is Dublin not Belfast but the undertones of the late 20th century loyalist and republican conflict sit heavily on the story.
Again though there are alternative readings. The idea of people not understanding that others ought not to be held responsible for things they did while ill could be saying something about the ignorance that surrounds mental health and the epidemic may be an analogy for any number of things that divide and isolate different sections of society.
By the end it does feel that any subtle messages may have been trampled over by a rampaging hoard of the living dead but if it becomes slightly more generic in its last half an hour The Cured is never less than thrilling.
Like Cargo there is only one recognisable name in the cast with Ellen Page giving a very strong performance. I’ve clearly seen her in other stuff but at times it did feel a little as though Juno kept the baby and then ten years later had to defend if from animated corpses.
The Cured is not as unsettling as Cargo but it isn’t far off. Here then are two readily available movies films that may upset but will also reward. If you’ve got the taste for it I would definitely recommend this double helping of undead drama.