Two new zombie films have the advantage of featuring unusual backdrops, an element that immediately distinguishes them from every other such film coming down the pike.
JeruZalem (2015) is set in the Holy City where decidedly unholy events are afoot. A similar crisis in the Australian Outback provides the setting for Cargo (2017). While both films rely heavily on unusual locations in their separate takes on a zombie apocalypse, in almost every other way they are complete opposites.
JeruZalem uses a narrative gimmick, another version of the first-person camera; Cargo is solidly rooted in character and theme. Genre fans may find JeruZalem worth a look; those who say the mere thought of such a film is appalling will see much to admire in Cargo.
Written by Israeli siblings Doran and Yoav Paz, the first film’s major character is Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn), whose doting dad gives her a pair of Google Glasses for her trip to Tel Aviv with best friend Rachel (Yael Grobglas). The whole film is seen through the glasses, utilizing impressive gadgetry like Face-time and facial recognition as the two girls start screwing around and then start running for their lives.
On the spur of the moment upon meeting hunk Kevin (Yon Tumarkin), an American 20-something, Sarah and Rachel opt to visit Jerusalem instead of their original destination. Kevin is interested in researching archival footage he discovered about a disturbing exorcism performed by a trio of clerics (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) years past. It’s now Yom Kippur, and there are rumors about another such manifestation heralding the End of Days, gleaned from a Talmud passage about the Holy City being one of three Gateways to Hell.
First it’s party-time when the girls hook up with Omar (Tom Graziani), a charming Muslim guide, but then the usual shenanigans begin as hell’s demons in zombie form begin to pay their respects.
Fascinating scenes of Jerusalem’s historical sites are woven into the horror film in a kind of guerilla-filmmaking, including impressive special effects. The characters (unlike the competent actors) are mostly one-dimensional and the dialogue (especially in the second half) is half-baked.
For chutzpah alone, though, JeruZalem is worth watching.
Cargo deserves your full attention. The film began as a seven-minute finalist at 2013 Tropfest Festival of Short Films in Australia. Airing on YouTube, it went viral, earning the clichéd word ‘perfect’ in this context—the zombies in the longer version are called Virals. Written by Yolanda Ramke (who has a small role) and co-directed by Ben Howling and Ramke, the compact narrative has very little dialogue. The story and characters are full-bodied sketches.
Comparing the feature film to its much-shorter genesis is a fascinating look at the creative process, but save the excellent YouTube version until you’ve seen the better full-blown gem. The stories are obviously similar, but plot surprises will be spoiled.
The feature opens with Andy (Martin Freeman), Kay (Susie Porter), and their infant daughter Rosie on a small houseboat, negotiating the Outback’s back waters. Without explanation, we learn a virulent zombie-type plague has affected the world. Andy’s trying to keep his family alive.
Eschewing as many spoilers as I can while tracing the bare outlines of Ramke’s brilliant script, I’ll say only that Andy’s odyssey in the wild puts him in the company of young Aboriginal girl Thoomi (Simone Landers). The influence of Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 masterpiece Walkabout, is obvious, especially since Cargo has David Gulpilil (the native boy in Roeg’s film) in an important minor role.
This is a zombie movie for anyone who hates zombie movies. Really. It’s still a thriller, mind you, but more than that, it’s a profoundly moving character and cultural study, with terrific acting and Daniel Foeldes’ cinematography. Howling and Ramke have a remarkable winner in their debut feature film.
A Netflix Original, Cargo shouldn’t be missed. Afterward, watch the 2013 short.