A few weeks ago I found myself musing about The Low-Budget Halo Effect. It's a theory I came up with to explain why we as viewers find ourselves to be more forgiving of sci-fi films made on a low budget. Now obviously we tend to be more receptive toward ambition and less critical of ways and means for low budget films of all genres, but when it comes to science fiction, we're often even more lenient of flaws than normal. I think this has to do with the fact that the genre is so often known for its bloated budgets in service of awe-inspiring, big-screen spectacle, so when we come across a film that reaches beyond its grasp with the best intentions, we're okay with it.

Had I seen Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter's feature film debut, Cargo, at that time I could have tailored that post specifically for it. Not only is it an independently financed passion project set aboard a spaceship that took over seven years to complete, but it was made in Switzerland, of all places. The entire film is an anomaly, which is precisely why it's been one of my most anticipated sci-fi films since first writing about its trailer on this very site.

Unfortunately I think Cargo will only be remembered because it is an anomaly. The Low-Budget Halo Effect is in full bloom here; remove the country of origin, forget who made it and how long it took them to do so, and this Swiss oddity withers on the vine. I hate to say that, I really do, particularly on a site whose mission is to honor the sci-fi genre, but the end product is a tad bit underwhelming.

Cargo's biggest faults lay with the script. It opens with an intriguing enough premise - Laura, a medic, is the only conscious crew member aboard a transport ship called the Kassandra. Or is she? - but it promptly degrades into a rather predictable whodunit of sorts whose mystery lays in finding out what the Kassandra is actually transporting. It's certainly a servicable script, but none of the characters are interesting enough to warrant any substantial investment in the story. One could have more fun imagining they live in a future where the next step of evolution is to shed all charisma as though it were a vestigial organ, as opposed to the future Cargo actually wants you to believe in.

The commentary Engler and Etter are shooting for is evident, but it's also been done better by the very films, books and TV shows they were so clearly influenced by. It attempts to play by a consistent set of logic and rules, as all hard science fiction should, however any in-depth analysis of the plot reveals how shaky it actually is. This little-too-familiar feel of the proceedings renders Cargo unique for its origins but not for its actual content.

Still, there's certainly plenty to admire and respect about the film without necessarily falling in love with it. The effects work is impressive for the scale of the production and it is far more ambitious than most science fiction films regardless of how much budget they have to work with. Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter are unquestionably talented and resourceful filmmakers and I'll keep my eye out for any future projects of bearing their names, but Cargo is sadly a film that comes up a little too short in the script department to leave any lasting impression on the genre.
CATEGORIES Reviews, Sci-Fi