Cargo is a Swiss sci-fi film which is something of a first for me. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a single other Swiss sci-fi film. Or a single other Swiss film. Or a single thing from Switzerland. Oh, except the knife things. I’m not very cultured though so what do I know. Anyway… it’s a surprisingly well made film, and very well polished considering the small budget. The music and cinematography are especially impressive and some of the shots really convey the awe-inspiring sights and gravitas of space. For the most part the CGI holds up well and there are lots of long slow panning shots of spaceships and space station gubbins, most of which look really beautiful.
Anna-Katharina Schwabroh plays Laura Portmann, who has signed up as a doctor on a long haul cargo flight, in order to get money to go and live with her sister on the uncannily pretty planet of Rhea. As Earth is no longer fit for habitation there is lots of demand to go to Rhea, so it’s prohibitively expensive. The first part of the film, especially the long opening shots of the space station, set the film up as a cerebral sci-fi in the same mould as ‘Sunshine’ – one of my favourite films, so I was immediately hooked.
I won’t give anything away, but I did feel like the film didn’t quite live up to the early potential, and though the film is never boring it is a bit more conventional than I was expecting. Initially I loved the sense of deep space isolation it created – though actually I don’t think doing a several-month shift alone on a spaceship in the middle of literally nowhere would be that bad, in fact it sounds pretty wonderful to me (as long as they have space-internets) – but clearly normal people would find it exhausting, tedious and lonely. Not to mention nerve-wracking when things inevitably start going clunk in the dark bits of the ship.
One thing that struck me immediately about the film was how it kept reminding me of other films. Which I suppose is inevitable given the fact that it is a film set in cramped corridors on a several-year long cargo flight. The dripping corridors, stasis pods and Asian lettering are reminiscent of the ‘Alien’ films; the long lonely shifts reminded me of ‘Moon’; the dark gangways and storage area reminded me of ‘Pandorum’; the crew and spaceship reminded me of ‘Sunshine’… and there are plenty of references to ‘Solaris’ too. Basically it’s like a Frankenstein’s Monster, built out of cool bits of other great sci-fi films. And one slightly less good sci-fi film (though Pandorum was alright really). I have no problem with this, it never felt like a rip-off, but I do think it prevented the film from having enough personality of it’s own. Everything was just a bit familiar and generic. By way of comparison, ‘Moon’ had a really strong sense of identity: with it’s white corridors and winking robots it was really memorable. I think Cargo should have strived to be a bit more individual.
There were also a few plot things that bothered me: the love story felt tacked on and unnatural; the spaceship seemed unreasonably dangerous to even just walk around in, especially the cargo area; some of the tension is created from adding a time limit that was oddly short considering they set it themselves and everyone seems a bit too nonplussed by events, it could use a bit more drama.
Overall though, definitely worth a watch if you are a fan of clever little sci-fi movies – it might not be perfect but it’s trying to be something brilliant, and that’s good enough for me.
Cargo is available to watch now on Amazon Prime