Ravenous (Les Affames) | 2018 | Unrated (R equivalent) | directed by Robin Aubert | 1 hr 44 mins | In French with English Subtitles |
Cargo | 2018 | Unrated (R equivalent) | starring Martin Freeman | directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke | 1 hr 45 mins |
Halloween Horrorfest # 3 & 4
Currently zombie movies put to the test my personal philosophy to enjoy movies for what they are trying to do and not judge them based on other films that came before and after – because there are just so darn many zombie movies. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a zombie movie, TV show or book. The Walking Dead particularly for better and for worse, has dictated how we look at zombie works so much that any new zombie film is, unfortunately, judged on not how well it works, but what new or different angle can it bring to this bloated, over-stuffed genre. This year the French indie Les Affames or Ravenous and the small release Cargo took a stab at zombie relevance.
We’ll start with Ravenous which doesn’t just have zombie baggage around it but a history of excellent French horror films at it’s back. Unlike The Horde which took on zombies in a more fun machine-gun style at the height of the French Horror New Wave, Ravenous doesn’t have any of those New Wave qualities (despite one deliciously executed exploding zombie head in the back of a pickup truck). Set in the non-descript back roads of Quebec, Canada looking very much like Walking Dead’s Georgia, it follows a handful of survivors – including one who looks like Walter White and tells doctor jokes, a woman, two elderly ladies defending their home and a little girl – as they quietly try to live out the apocalypse.
The film is stripped down. At times looking like a hand-held indie shot in the backyard and at times effectively creepy – it’s zombies are the fast, Rage-virus variety a la 28 Days Later and the movie itself is structured like 28 Weeks Later where characters rise up to take the narrative as others are killed off – making it progressively less interesting as the meatiest characters go down. But mostly the film shoots for indie cinema cred by committing to it’s quiet theme. Large sections of Ravenous are silent, as its characters hustle around so quietly that a stepped on twig can cause an attack. Something must be in the water because John Krasinski just pulled this motif off in the blockbuster American film A Quiet Place also this year. The difference is that Krasinski’s films is both a better character piece and a coiled back suspense machine that constantly put it’s characters in situations where they had to struggle to not make a sound. In Ravenous, people are just quiet. As zombie movies go we’ve pretty much been here and done this.
Slicker, more emotionally engaging and more creative, though still suffering from a plague of zombie tropes, Cargo finds omnipresent actor Martin Freeman lending some warmth to this post-apocalyptic story set in the Australian outback. Per zombie movie usual, both of these films are essentially road trip movies that involve stealing cars or boats and running into other people with their own issues along the way. Cargo doesn’t do anything to turn the genre over, but is ripe with details that stick out in the zombie movie crowd.
Where Ravenous gets less interesting as it goes, Cargo gets better. After a inert first act, Freeman and his family end up on the run across the outback with his adorable infant daughter Rosie in tow. The film largely avoids child-in-danger tropes as Freeman encounters other plagued families, zombie hunters, and an aboriginal young girl who helps in his journey. The film’s zombies are unique spins on the old fashioned lumberers. They stand creepily on the horizon staring at you and apparently don’t like light, sticking their heads in the sand like ostriches and rubbing their heads against cave walls to get away from it. These flourishes and the movie’s several effectively sweet moments help when it starts to fall back on the Fear the Living trope. In a tiresome sequence, Freeman encounters a doomsday prepper who wants to cage people and use them as bait. He’s the villain of the hissing, spitting variety.
In the last half Cargo succeeds in being an emotionally resonant story of a father trying to protect a daughter and a daughter trying to save her father. While the film isn’t particularly gory (we do get some intestines used as bait) or scary (neither of these are), it’s approach to the zombie virus slowly overtaking it’s host over several days is horrifying because we care about Freeman and his journey. That warmth in the usually nasty, hopeless, anarchist world of zombie movies – the world Ravenous still lives in – makes Cargo work and strike a note these movies usually don’t.
Ravenous: 2 .5 / 5
Cargo: 3 / 5