In Cargo, Natasha (Natasha Rinis), a comely young Russian with big dreams, arrives in Mexico hoping to be taken across the border to the U.S. The situation is shady from the beginning, as her prearranged driver asks for her passport and keeps it in his shirt pocket. “It’s safer that way,” he says. The next thing you know she’s sitting in a van with other Russian women, who look just like her, as Russian thugs discuss what to do with the “merchandise.” Natasha is promptly beaten, drugged, and taken to a dungeon, where several blond girls lay on mattresses in their panties, disheveled and in a post-rape catatonic state. Natasha’s apparent naiveté has her introducing herself to anyone who enters a room (“My name is Natasha. What is your name?”), even if it’s to lock her in it. Just a few hours after arriving on North American soil, her lips impeccably glossed, her eyes hungry for new beginnings, Natasha finds herself in the back of a truck, laying in her own piss and being hauled across the country to meet her new owners.
Cargo‘s violence feels somehow necessary and its plot twists surprisingly believable. The film’s narrative evokes the final scenes of the Dardenne brothers’ Lorna’s Silence, when an Albanian émigré to Belgium also finds herself stuck in a moving vehicle with no one to scream to. But while Lorna’s story was much more nuanced and multilayered, Cargo can feel like a “film about human trafficking” from beginning to end. The fact that the final intertitle reads “More than 17,500 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked into the U.S. every year” further reduces what could have been a story about people to a story about a topic. At least Demi and Ashton aren’t producers.
It’s also unfortunate that midway through Cargo Natasha actually reveals to her Muslim kidnapping driver the details of how she left Russia in the first place (to the sound of the guitar strumming that’s commonly slapped onto such bonding scenes), and they exchange sob stories. But she’s much more interesting when she keeps her mystery, when one isn’t sure if she’ll muffle a cry or grab a piece of concrete and slam it against her kidnapper’s head. Will she grab his cellphone now or wait for a more opportune time? In a particularly delightful scene, he tells her he’s going to kill her and she replies, “No, you’re not. You’re just a driver.”