Switzerland’s “Cargo” presents a realistic, yet familiar, vision of the future. Like other sci-fi and post-apocalyptic films before it, Earth has become polluted and uninhabitable. Humankind has abandoned their home-world in favor of the distant planet of Rhea, and those unable to buy or win passage to the utopian paradise have been left orbiting their dying world on crowded space stations. However, disease, overpopulation and a violent terrorist group have made these cold mechanical homes even less tolerable.
In an effort to earn enough money to buy passage to Rhea and reunite with her family, Laura Portmann (Anna-Katharina Schwabroh) takes a job as a medic onboard the Kassandra, a massive cargo ship transporting goods to a distant space station. Laura and the small crew spend the majority of their eight year journey in hibernation; however, each crew member must also spend a lonely eight and a half months out of cryo-sleep to monitor the ship.
Mid-way through her shift, Laura makes a startling discovery: the Kassandra is transporting more than simple goods. And after the suspicious death of the ship’s captain, Laura and the crew must face even greater mysteries, consequently revealing the truth about their cargo, the planet Rhea, and Earth.
Directors Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter do an excellent job of creating a realistic and believable vision of the future. Space travel is slow, boring and anything but glamorous – unlike the excitement of light-speed, holodecks and talking computers in the Star Trek universe. Furthermore, like “Firefly’s” Serenity, or “Alien’s” Nostromo, the Kassandra is detailed and convincing – a cold, gritty and unwelcoming ship. The sheer massiveness of the vessel is conveyed through visually spectacular scenes in the cargo hanger and some pretty impressive CG.
Engler and Etter also use the ship’s realism as an excellent means of creating suspense. Power surges and unexplained mechanical noises slowly build tension, and Fredrik Strömberg’s haunting yet serene score provides the film with a musical backdrop that matches the stunning visuals.
However, despite its realism, “Cargo” doesn’t bring anything new or revolutionary to the sci-fi genre. It’s difficult not to draw parallels between “Cargo” and other films such as “Pandorum,” “Sunshine,” “Alien” or “The Matrix,” as the film definitely pulls themes and ideas from each. Viewers will find the film to be predictable at times, and the major plot revelations to be underwhelming.
Overall, sci-fi fans will appreciate “Cargo” for its thoughtful plausibility, but viewers expecting an action-packed thriller will find that the film falls flat.
“Cargo” recently debuted at the SXSW Festival and will be playing at the SCI-FI-LONDON film festival.
(Click HERE for further discussion of the movie. Caution: It includes spoilers.)
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