Director: Yad Deen
Starring: Tania Watson, Agustín Mateo, Rawand Khalid Saeed, Youssef Osman
Country: Iraq, Spain, UK
Carga, a Spanish thriller set in Iraq, follows couple Marta and Juan (Tania Watson and Agustín Mateo) to an abandoned cigarette factory to uncover its secrets. It’s a simple yet ominous setup, and setting. With the couple venturing into the great unknown, director and co-writer, Yad Deen, does a marvellous job of building tension in just 19 minutes.
Marta is a renowned documentarian whose presence is acknowledged — and reasoning speculated — when she arrives in Iraq. Her previous work has taken her to Chernobyl and Afghanistan but she is on the hunt for better stories. Her boyfriend, Juan, is a filmmaker and, concerning for her safety, joins Marta on her latest expedition. Within mere moments, we understand this couple and root for them, whatever their future plight. Watson and Mateo are convincing as a couple but the focus lies on Watson as Marta. She is strong and fearless, independent and quietly pensive with her inquisitive eyes never letting up, yet she is not without vulnerabilities. Watson is simply brilliant.
Assisting the couple is local driver, Ahmed (Rawand Khalid Saeed), who is taking them to the factory far out in the desert. On the way, they are stopped by a security checkpoint guard (Youssef Osman) and, without giving too much away; the scene brilliantly elevates both tension and suspicion and is key as to how the rest of the film plays out. Writers, Yad Deen and Chesco Simón, use dialogue sparingly but it only enhances and offers comparisons between characters; the concerning and caring nature between Marta and Juan compared to the blunt and somewhat unbridled speech between the couple and Ahmed and the guard.
Once inside the factory, moments of stillness highlight the desolate nature of what surrounds them. However, the tension mounts quickly and Deen expertly handles the sudden clash of genres as the film picks up its pace. The music by Harry Franceschi perfectly compliments every moment but never overruns the plot, it only ever enhances.
Within the horror/thriller genre, wandering off the beaten path to find haunted or abandoned places is not uncommon; it is becoming a frequently used trope. It is unknown as to what is in store for these characters as they begin their journey, which is certainly intriguing, more so due to its unique location. Beautiful scenic landscapes are contrasted with the cold and isolated factory, the camera never failing to highlight this stark contrast but unafraid of close-ups when the scene demands it.
Carga is a gripping short film. Its marvellous build-up is ever so slightly hindered by a speedy conclusion but it is remarkable for what it achieves in such a short space of time. Deen, previously a documentarian himself, masters the thrill yet apprehension of setting off on an adventure and, the first half in particular skilfully creates tension and a duo to root for. It’s also really fun.
Carga is currently on the festival route so check it out if you have the chance! It recently announced its Scandinavian premiere at the Annual Copenhagen Film Festival in March, and it was screened twice this month during the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. A huge thank you to Yad Deen for getting in touch with me and sending the film.