SIFF MOVIE: Cargo (2009)

This science fiction movie from Switzerland turned out to be a happy surprise.  Never having seen a Swiss film (I don’t think?), let alone a Swiss space thriller, I had no idea what to expect.  But, wonder of aces and bliss, it not only had decent special effects (though, granted, a bit cartoony in places), but an extremely creative and satisfying story to boot.  Go, Switzerland!

Set some time in the future, Earth has been evacuated due to dangerous levels of acid rain which have poisoned the ground and made it impossible to grow food.  The majority of the population now lives in a series of space stations which have gotten dangerously overcrowded, leading to famine and disease.

A handful of wealthy or otherwise fortunate people have been allowed to resettle on a new planet, Rhea, where, TV ads tell the space station residents, life is bright, clean, green, and happy.

Dr. Laura Portmann, the main character of this story, decides it’s time to get off the station and work her way to Rhea, where her sister lives.  Towards that end, she takes a job as medical officer on a cargo ship transporting, she is told, construction materials for a new station closer to a galaxy more likely to hold habitable planets.  The trip will take eight years (four each way), but will make Laura enough money to get to her sister: totally worth it.

On the cargo ship, we find the usual sci-fi suspects: the grizzled, no-nonsense captain, the suspicious and all-too-serious female XO, the goofy fix-it guys, the nerdy computer/science geek, etc.

Thrown in for good measure, though, is a TSA agent — a space cop of sorts — now a mandatory presence on all vessels due to an escalation of violent terrorist attacks being perpetrated by an anti-technology, anti-government organization known simply as “the Luddites.”

Once the mission gets on its way, everyone goes into cryo-sleep with one person awake at a time, taking eight-month shifts.  About three-and-a-half years in, it’s finally Laura’s turn.  At first, it’s mostly just boring.  Then one night, she begins hearing noises, noises that eventually lead her to suspect someone else is on board and awake — a stowaway.

The next thing she knows, crewmates are dying, the TSA agent keeps making out with her (oh, shush — he’s gorgeous, so who could blame her?), and, well, things with Rhea, she soon discovers, are not quite what they seem.

Overall, I found the story and characters really engaging.  The little romance between Laura and the TSA guy was overdone to the point of silliness at times, but not unbearably so.  Also, I appreciated a lot of the smaller elements, mostly related to the science of space-travel.  Like the ship being really cold, the presence of “gravity reversal” cautionary signs on all the doors (it takes so little to make me accept your space travelers walking instead of floating — so very little — but it does take something, okay?), etc.  Sure, there was noise in space (no there isn’t!), but at least it was muffled.  I forgave it quickly, if only because of the super-cool jet packs.

Definitely a good choice for spaceship-set sci-fi film fans.  Not sure you will be able to see this one on the big screen unless a film festival comes your way, but you can keep an eye out for it at your local video store or prequeue it at Netflix.  And, well, you oughta.  Recommended!

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Science Fiction, Foreign
Cast: Anna-Katharina Schwabroh, Martin Rapold, Regula Grauwiller, Pierre Semmler

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