The best “one-room thrillers” show the popular potential of indie cinema—with a strong script and dedicated performances, you don’t need a huge budget to get people’s blood pumping. These locked-box movies go back at least to Hitchcock’s Rope, but the triple threat of Devil, 127 Hours, and Buried in 2010 gave them a surprising moment in the sun. With Avatar released the previous year and the Marvel machine kicking into gear, it seemed like a revelation at the time to see movie stars like Ryan Reynolds and James Franco in small films where the camera almost never looked away from their faces. Since then, strong entries in the subgenre like Locke and 10 Cloverfield Lane have kept the fire alive. The new indie film [Cargo] wants to join their ranks, but within the first minute, it’s clear that its contents should be left to suffocate and die.
Anthony Peterson (Ron Thompson) wakes up in an otherwise empty cargo container. He receives a phone call from his kidnappers, who are ransoming him and his wife for 10 million dollars. If he doesn’t cough up the money, they will “gang-f**k his wife and post it on the web,” then kill them both. They’ve also electrified the cargo container and will shock him if he doesn’t cooperate, and they’ll cut off his oxygen if he calls the police. What follows is a series of high-octane wire transfers—if you’ve ever had trouble with your bank’s customer service, it’s sure to thrill and excite.
“If he doesn’t cough up the money, they will ‘gang-f**k his wife’ and post it on the web…”
These movies live and die by their central performances, and Ron Thompson’s turn as finance shark Anthony Peterson is so agonizing that I wonder if no one else auditioned for the role. In fact, [Cargo] could serve as a warning to film students about the types of performers they might encounter at casting calls. I don’t mean to hate on the legions of retired folks who use their newfound free time to pursue their childhood acting dreams, but young filmmakers need to learn that “looking the part” is not enough. Thompson certainly has the mottled, gristly look of an aging tycoon, but from the moment he opens his mouth, it’s clear that the next 78 minutes of watching this man are going to be rough.
He growls. He squeals. His voice goes UP and down. He contorts his face and flails his hands around in some kind of simulacrum of rage and desperation. It is truly the hammiest, most off-kilter, least genuine performance I have ever seen. The voice-only actors on the other end of the line are a little better, but not by much.
What else is there? The synthwave soundtrack is a bizarre fit for the material, but it’s fine. Given that the location doesn’t change at all (not even the lighting), the camerawork is occasionally interesting. The sound editing of the events on the other end of Peterson’s phone is sometimes believable. But this movie could be shot by Roger Deakins and come with Smell-O-Vision, and the audience would still be trapped with Anthony Peterson in a one-man show from hell.
[Cargo] (2018) Written and directed by James Dylan. With Ron Thompson, Danika Fields, Mark Wood, Corbin Timbrook.
1 out of 10 stars