Truth be told, while I enjoyed zombie movies in the past, once George Romero encapsulated the modern version with 1978's Dawn Of The Dead, he pretty much said everything there was to say in & about the genre (with the possible exception of Lucio Fulci's 3-way topless scuba diver vs. zombie vs. shark fight in 1979's Zombi 2 a.k.a. Zombie Flesh Eaters a.k.a. Island Of The Living Dead).
So it was no small surprise to me to stumble upon Cargo, a short Australian film from 2013 directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke from a script by Ramke. It's got everything you want in a zombie movie without ever going to excess, and best of all at a speedy seven minutes it's short & sweet. Check out the video here.
Prior to Romero's groundbreaking Night Of The Living Dead, zombie movies had fallen pretty much in the mainstream of classic horror /monster movies. Zombies -- like Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman -- were The Other that the heroes had to protect society from. In many instances the monsters had a sympathetic side and, while decidedly dangerous, were pictured as misunderstood (Frankie) or victims in their own right (zombies, who typically were reduced to their unenviable state by cruel masters seeking to exploit their labor, an aspect not to far from the ur-reality of The Serpent And The Rainbow).
Romero turned all that on its ear by casting society as the monster the heroes must defend themselves against. Night Of The Living Dead set the mark, but he covered similar territory in The Crazies and finally brought the matter to a head with Dawn Of The Dead and its
infamous America-as-a-shopping-mall allegory.
It was a brilliant analogy and imitation being the sincerest form of plagiarism (nothing exceeds like success), everybody and their pet monkey has been pretty much following that trope ever since.
Which is not necessarily a happy thing. Granted, zombie movies are inexpensive to produce (ragged clothes and cheesy make up is all you really need), but the fact no one -- neither creators or more importantly, audiences -- is questioning Romero's underlying assumption but instead are essentially signing off on it is troubling in a genuinely apocalyptical sense.
Instead of risking everything to save the society to which they belong, modern zombie movie heroes see sacrifice to help others as futile at best, stupid and self-defeating at worse (I'm sure there are exceptions, but they are just that; exceptions).
Unlike classic horror films movies where a common cultural good stood in opposition to the predatory monsters, a good that is typically addressed in scriptural terms and assumed to be either naturally innate or supernaturally ordained, modern zombie stories are based on the anti-Bible of Ayn Rand's philosophy.
"Every objectivist for themselves and the charitable parasites take the hindmost" pretty much sums up her attitude and the plot of every zombie movie since 1968.
Case in point: Compare Charlton Heston's The Omega Man with Night / Dawn Of The Dead; it neatly fits between the two Romero films chronologically. It is a classic monster movie plot with an extra dollop of Christ-allegory thrown in (a level sold much more easily by Heston than by Vincent Price or Will Smith in previous and latter versions of the same material).
Heston dies to save a new generation with his own blood, and not merely the new generation but also those who are already infected with the deadly zombie strain. Heston's sacrifice is to protect and preserve the innocent first, but he does not turn his back on his enemies, no matter how horribly they abuse him.
Post-Romero zombie movies typically have a subtext of a soulless consumer society run amok, chasing and devouring the "normal" heroes (although in the topsy-turvy world of modern zombie movie morality, "outsider" as well). Rarely do modern zombie films deal with attempting to stay or turn the tide of the living dead.
Rather, the new zombies are seen as not merely worthless but dangerous, to be treated without compassion. If your dearest friend or closest loved one goes over to the zombie side, well, that's it, no turning back. Just compartmentalize your grief and blast that mammy-jammer's non-living brains out.
This is not a good sign. It's not a healthy trait in a society that out of necessity has to accommodate a vast variety of attitudes and cultures.
I'm the last person who thinks creators should be dictated to as to what they want to create (or to audiences as to what they must consume -- dammit! There I go using zombie movie terminology!).
But I think it wouldn't hurt if creators tried some new approach, something with a little more hope and a little more heart.
That's why I luvz me some Cargo, and I hope you do, too.