The year is 2267. People have been relocated to huge space stations because Earth has become uninhabitable. Something to do with excessive pollution, we're told.

Laura (Anna Katharina-Schwabroh) is a medical expert employed on one station to tend to the ill. This is an overwhelming task, given that over-population and poor sanitary conditions have led to widespread disease. But Laura gets by on the dream that one day she'll save enough money to move to the promised land of Rhea.

Rhea is a Utopian state that is endlessly advertised on huge billboard video screens, promising a peaceful existence for all those who can afford a ticket there. It is the polar opposite of the dark, crowded life on the space stations.

Laura's sister Arianne (Maria Boettner) lives on Rhea with her kids, and Laura sends her a video message one night with the exciting news that she's landed herself a job on a cargo ship. This means that, in 8 years' time when her job has been completed, she will have the finances required to finally join them on Rhea.

She's flown out to the huge, forbidding cargo ship where she meets captain Lacroix (Pierre Semmler), his stern deputy Lindbergh (Regula Grauwiller) and the rest of the workers. Also along for the ride is Dexter (Martin Rapold), a Marshall assigned to protect the team from pirates who may try to attack the ship.

Laura is one of a team who must work separate 8-month shifts maintaining construction materials that are bound for neighbouring galaxy Proxima, where the authorities hope to build another new world. When they're not working their shift, the team are immersed into cryogenic chambers to sleep.

3 years and 8 months later, Laura awakes from her cryonic state ready to begin her shift. She takes a walk down the ship's lonely dark corridors and towards the airlock below deck where the cargo is stored.

Laura peers through a window and into the airlock. Something moves. That's not supposed to happen. Nor is Dexter supposed to be awake - but he is.

Begrudgingly, Dexter allows Laura to follow emergency procedures and wake Lacroix. He's not too chuffed about being woken, but soon gets his professional head on and insists that the three of them conduct a detailed search of the airlock. Naturally they split up to get the job done quicker. This allows for Lacroix to fall to his death and for no-one to see how this happens.

With Lindbergh assuming command, the rest of the crew are woken and tensions rise when they discover that the cargo they are carrying is actually human beings.

This pits Laura against the increasingly sinister Linbergh, and throws a whole new light on events as Dexter becomes our heroine's unlikely ally. But, if they discover the truth behind the cargo ship's purpose, will they be able to handle it?

The Swiss aren't renowned for their forays into the sci-fi genre. They do, however, lay claim to being home to celebrated artist HR Giger, who earned International recognition for his assistance in designing the look of Ridley Scott's ALIEN.

Little surprise then, that CARGO should look so similar to Scott's famed 1979 effort. The interiors of the cargo ship, from the hexagonal corridors to the sparse lighting and ominous shadows lurking in every corner, will give anyone who's ever laid eyes on the Nostradamus ship a severe case of déjà vu. Heck, even the slop that the crew eats looks similar.

And, for the first third of the film, it seems as though the plot is going to take an awfully similar route too. It's fair to say that Katharina-Schwabroh initially comes across as a poor man's Sigourney Weaver.

But thankfully CARGO is not the rip-off it at first threatens to be. The plot may well borrow from umpteen other sci-fi films, but ALIEN is left behind by the midway mark as the drama is derived more from conspiracy theories and a quest to uncover the truth.

That's not to say the old haunted house ploy isn't used to some degree, or that the bulk of the crew aren't there purely to boost the body count. But, mercifully, Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter's film has enough about it to engage the viewer and rise above potentially predictable material.

Visually the film is a treat. Though clearly filmed on a low budget (4.2 million Euros, apparently), the production design is very attractive indeed. Exterior shots are convincing for the most part - save for a couple of dodgy CGI shots - and the interiors, while derivative of everything from ALIEN to EVENT HORIZON and beyond, are successfully grimy and decaying.

As a result, the film is awash with atmosphere. It's not difficult to get lost in the ambient visuals. In fact, at times it's hard to pull yourself away from them and keep your focus on the storyline. One of the reasons for this is that the action is never as striking as the film's look. There is a subdued nature to proceedings. The film intimates violence at times but is never so. It suggests scares but doesn't provide them. In short, it never threats, never titillates.

A few "f" words in the script are about as dangerous as CARGO gets. Which isn't cause for complaint as such, but it would've been beneficial for the film to have packed just a little punch, in lieu of originality or bigger budget thrills.

The end of the film is bittersweet and leaves some questions unanswered. It can also probably be guessed from early on. But, all in all, the script is not bad - just flawed. And overshadowed by the dark sets, which themselves owe much to an alarming number of films that have gone before them: METROPOLIS, BLADE RUNNER, CUBE ...

Elevation's disc is a rudimentary affair.

CARGO looks fine in an anamorphic 2.35:1 presentation that preserves the intended aspect ratio. There are no compression issues, blacks are sturdy throughout and - for a film set in almost perpetual darkness - there is a satisfying amount of colour and brightness evident. Images are sharp and grain is minimal.

The German audio is an equally good job, offering consistent and clean playback throughout. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read.

An animated main menu page leads into a static scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

The only extra is a 2-minute trailer with English subtitles. This film would really have benefited from a Making Of documentary but, alas, none is provided. The German release, in contrast, contains a commentary track, Making Of featurette, deleted scenes ...

CARGO is a minor film that is not without its points of interest. Its good points are mainly the visuals which, while extremely derivative, are aesthetically pleasing. The picture and sound quality on the UK DVD are good, but it's disappointingly light on extras.

Also available on blu-ray.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Optimum/Elevation Sales
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review