Review by Sean Boelman
A low-budget sci-fi epic with plenty of big ideas, Aarti Kadav’s film Cargo is one of the more ambitious movies that was going to play at this year’s SXSW. However, beyond the initial intrigue of its very creative premise, the film doesn’t do much to make itself feel like the allegory that it so obviously wants to be.
The movie tells the story of an astronaut working on a spaceship that serves as a vessel to prepare the recently deceased for their rebirth. Based on a combination of religious mythology and science fiction, Kadav’s film will hook viewers in with its undeniably idiosyncratic concept, but once the initial intrigue wears off, it becomes clear that the movie falls back on a disappointingly conventional plot.
The first thirty minutes are undeniably the best part of the film as they establish the rules of the world. However, once a new character is introduced, the movie falls back on tropes of an old dog struggling to try to learn new tricks when he is forced to compete with a younger, more proficient potential replacement.
Arguably the film’s greatest success is in exploring the idea of what it means to actually move on. Both in the religious aspects of the movie and the protagonist’s struggle to maintain his position, the film discusses how a person can effectively cope with change. An added dose of fish-out-of-water comedy could have lightened the mood, but the movie is thought-provoking nevertheless.
The character development in the film is certainly quite strong. The protagonist’s arc, while conventional, is very likable. The feelings that he is experiencing are pretty universal, hence why the movie has a solid emotional impact. His sidekick in the film is amusing and endearing, serving as a solid foil.
Vikrant Massey and Shweta Tripathi have great chemistry together, and that is part of what keeps the movie going. Since a majority of the film consists of them interacting with various spirits for a short amount of time, they are the only real constants. They do a great job of grounding the movie emotionally despite its fantasy elements.
On a technical level, it is obvious that the film did not have an enormous budget at its disposal, but it mostly works very well regardless. The production design and cinematography both do a very good job of building the world of the movie and immersing the viewer in it, even despite the fact that the sets aren’t as grand as usual for the genre.
Cargo doesn’t hit all of the targets it aims for as a sci-fi allegory, but it has plenty of interesting ideas. It is clear why this film was selected to be a part of this year’s festival, and while it’s eventual audience is going to be very limited, it may have a chance of gaining a small cult following.
Cargo was set to screen at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.