When you’re a film nut (or geek, or buff, or lover, or add descriptive word of choice here______), you will take a chance on a film you’ve never heard of. Often this unknown film is incredibly cheap, which can indicate that it is laughably bad and worth the paltry purchase price just to watch it and roll about the floor in uncontrollable mirth. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you Cowboys and Vampires aka Dead West as evidence and will rest my case.
Sometimes you find a fantastically great film, that for some obscure reason, has been placed in the bargain bucket. The 2009 Swiss film Cargo falls squarely in that category. Wikipedia will tell you that Cargo is Switzerland’s first science fiction film what it will not tell you is that the film is a mystery/thriller that just happens to take place in space.
Directed by Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter (Engler also co-wrote the film with another six people) Cargo is stark, moody, cold, huge and brilliant.
Main Cast List:
Anna Katharina Schwabroh … Laura Portman
Martin Rapold … Samuel Decker
Regula Grauwiller… Anna Lindberg
Yangzom Brauen… Miyuki Yoshida
Pierre Semmler… Pierre Lacroix
Claude-Oliver Rudolph… Igor Prokoff
Michael Finger… Claudio Vespucci
The film is set in 2267. The earth has been polluted to such an extent that it is now uninhabitable. People now have to live in an enormous ‘space city’ that is overcrowded and affected by sickness and apathy. There is one other place to live. A planet called Rhea. It is a Terra-formed planet that looks like a paradise. Anyone can live on Rhea if they have enough money or are lucky enough to win a lottery to move there.
A young medical doctor, Laura Portman hires on to a decaying cargo vessel that has been contracted to deliver building materials to a “way-station” that will be the mid-point for travel to another solar system. She will make enough money on the eight year trip (four years out and back) to pay her way to Rhea where her sister Arianne lives with her two children.
Laura boards the ship and meets the five member crew, Captain Lacroix and his second-in-command Lindberg, Yoshida the ship’s engineer and the two maintenance men Prokoff and Vespucci. She learns that the journey will entail the crew having to man the vessel in eight month shifts. Only one crew member will be actively monitoring the journey while the others are in cryosleep.
On this particular journey the now six member crew will be joined by a security officer named Decker. Decker is there because of an increased threat from the terrorist group “Maschinenstürmer” (Machine strikers) who target and blow up cargo vessels. Six of the now seven member crew then don their cryo-gear and enter the sludge filled tanks.
Three years and four and a half months later Laura is on the back end of her shift. She spends her time sending messages to her sister on Rhea, exercising (working out on a punch bag) and checking the crew and the ship’s status. She begins to hear unexplained noises.
When she attempts to track down the source of the noise she winds up at the cargo hold door. As she starts to look through the ice covered door, something hits the other side. Frightened she runs away and bumps into Security Office Decker who says that he was woken from cryostasis because someone opened a restricted door.
Following the ship’s protocol Laura want’s to wake the remaining crew members. Decker insists that they only wake Captain Lacroix. Lacroix grumpily agrees to search the ship with Decker and Laura. He warns Laura that if they find nothing there will be serious consequences for breaching the Cryo protocol.
Once the three enter the actual cargo area they split up. Soon after, Lacroix falls screaming from one of the higher walkways. After determining that Lacroix has died from his fall, Laura and Decker wake the remaining crew members.
Cargo looks fantastic, the cinematography, lighting and sets are reminiscent of Blade Runner and Alien.
The orbiting city at the beginning of the film looks spectacular and is the portion of the film that evokes the Blade Runner feel. You know that if you could walk the streets, they would be wet, dirty and crowded.
The cargo ship feels like it could be the Nostromo‘s ethereal twin, harsh contrasts of light and dark and the watery corridors that run through the ship like a damp maze. But unlike the mining ship from the Alien verse, Cargo’s shipping vessel is not built for crew comfort, it is cold, wet and icy (another type of contrast, if it’s not icy and freezing it is watery and cold). Although the crew’s area is at least dry, it is obvious that Kuiper Enterprises who own the vessel are saving money by not providing central heating for the crew.
The film is obviously science fiction if for no other reason than it’s futuristic space setting. But scrape away the space veneer and you will find a mystery thriller of the finest calibre. My daughter and I (both keen mystery fans and quite adept at guessing who’s who in most films) were constantly having to change our minds as to who the real ‘big bad’ actually was.
A lot of twists and turns in the plot area combined with an eerie cargo spaceship setting made for a wonderfully tense, suspense filled film.
The film was the maiden effort of both directors but you’d never know it by the quality of the film. Cargo builds suspense slowly but steadily throughout the entire film. The pacing is spot on and the acting is just great. The film is in German with English sub-titles. Thankfully the film makers did not go the ‘dubbing’ route as that would have surely destroyed the film.
The sub-titles aren’t ridiculously long so you don’t have to miss anything by reading a ‘Gone With the Wind’ type narration at the bottom of the screen.
An absolutely brilliant film that deserves to be placed in the same league as the above mentioned films, Blade Runner and Alien.
- Alien (yaiw.wordpress.com)
- 4 Reasons Why You Should See ‘Prometheus’ (grizzlybomb.com)
- Blade Runner sequel will reunite Ridley Scott with original screenplay writer (guardian.co.uk)
- Off-Topic – Re: The real reason Alien was rated 18: censors found the mo (disclose.tv)