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Why ‘Cargo’ is a brand new kind of zombie film

Martin Freeman talks making a dangerous, visceral and human horror
Martin Freeman in Cargo
[Image: Netflix]

Released at the height of zombie fandom, it didn’t take long for the Australian short film Cargo to go viral back in 2013.

Moviegoers didn’t watch it in their droves because it was particularly gory or violent, though. Instead they connected to its ingenious approach and emotion.

That’s exactly what convinced Martin Freeman to join the feature-length version of “Cargo” when he was approached by the directing team of Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, too.

In “Cargo,” Freeman plays an infected father desperately on the search for a new home for his infant daughter. He has 48 hours to do just that before he turns, so he carries 1-year-old Rosie across the Australian desert in search of survivors

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Freeman admitted that he only saw the short when the script was sent to him, but was immediately impressed with both.

“You saw that it was the whole story of that short. The short was the culmination. The script was the whole background. They both felt visceral, human, dangerous. They are shot in a way that other films might be shot that weren’t about zombies.”

“All I ever look for, I don’t even look I just notice the absence of it, when things are not real or believable. If I think I am being lied to I notice that. Clearly when you bring zombies in it isn’t Ken Loach, but within that you have to be as real as possible.”

Freeman wasn’t really interested in the zombie aspect of the film, though. Instead he just trusted that Ben and Yolanda wouldn’t make them “naff.”

“We had a very good movement coach, who made it specific and broke it down into stages. I found them quite disturbing really. Because when they went into their thing some of them would be bent over in a sort of ‘Exorcist’ way. They were almost at a right angle. It didn’t even look like they were zombieish. It just looked like this person was ill. Really, really ill. It was upsetting.”

Freeman was particularly impressed by the design of the zombies, although he stressed that in “Cargo” they are referred to as virals.

“I loved the design of all that. I just thought the whole thing was horrible. The crusting over of the eyes and the mouth and all that, it was like becoming a plant life. Obviously a virus just needs to survive.”

“That’s why they are burrowing down into the ground, because there’s obviously something about the nutrients in the earth. The host knows nothing about it. The body just knows that it needs to dig and shove its head in the ground.”

“So that’s why you see that a few times. The idea is that when they surface they are reborn as the virals. They are burrowing for a reason that you don’t know.”

Mostly, though, Freeman focused on the father/daughter dynamic of the film, which was what originally attracted him to “Cargo.” Working with the two sets of twins that portrayed Rosie wasn’t really an issue, instead it was the mosquitos of Australia that caused him the biggest inconvenience.

“The heat was interesting. It was fine actually. I like heat. But the testing stuff was the flies and the mosquitos. The mosquitos were a problem in one particular location that we had to visit a number of times. It was called lower light, this little town. It was tough.”

“Because it was basically a swamp. And I just got eaten alive. The make-up covered it, but before I just looked like I had been beaten up. They were just focusing on my face.”

At least that added Freeman’s grungy performance, which you can admire when “Cargo” is released on Netflix on May 18.