Mulberry Street (2007) dir. Jim Mickle
Starring: Nick Damici, Antone Pagan, Sarah Dickinson
Opening the ‘Toronto After Dark Film Festival’ last night was the acclaimed New York City zombie film “Mulberry Street”. When an infestation of half-rat half-man zombies take over Manhattan, a group of lowly apartment building tenants including a former boxer, a drag queen and a war veteran form an unlikely bond to fight off the predators. It’s a humorous logline, but the film is a seriously intense urban action zombie film in the tradition of “28 Days Later”.
The opening establishes a group of well-meaning New York City working class residents of a condemned apartment building slated for demolition. Before that happens, some of the feral rats also inhabiting the building start exhibiting more than the usual belligerent behaviour. When a rat takes a chunk out of the arm of one of the residents, he becomes infected with a new virus that will soon turn him into a rat zombie. Of course, where’s there’s one rat zombie there 10 more. And so it doesn’t take long for Manhattan to turn into a rat-zombie war zone.
In the building the fight is led by former boxer Clutch (Nick Damici) who is joined by Drag Queen Coco (Ron Brice) and a group of unlikely working class heroes. Clutch’s paternal instincts kick in and he becomes the Romero-like hero of the building. Meanwhile, in another part of the city Clutch’s daughter Casey (Kim Blair) has returned home from a tour in Iraq to be with her Father. She is forced to fight her way into the city to be reunited with her long lost father. The reunion is bittersweet as more death and bloodshed soon follow.
The film is played completely straight with little overt humour, though I giggled at some of the creative beatings from Clutch and his comrades-in-arms. There are no guns in the film; instead fists are the weapons of choice. Rat-zombies are punched to a pulp and thrown around like rag dolls. The hook of the film seems to be the introduction of the New York City rat into the zombie world. It sounds great on paper, but apart from catching a glimpse of a few prosthetic noses in some of the shots, the enemies are just flesh-eating zombies – plain and simple.
Jim Mickle keeps his camera moving and cutting at a frantic pace. His staccato shutter effect mimics the visual techniques in “28 Days Later”. In fact, the tone of Danny Boyle’s film is all over this film. Mickle uses an ambient feedback music score that Boyle used to punctuate his emotion beats in “28 Days Later”. Mickles overuses this technique and through repetitiveness, unfortunately it loses its impact. There’s about 6 or 7 action sequences with muted location sound and amplified ambient feedback. Mickle seems infatuated with it.
I’m being a little tough on the film, because considering the zero-budget the filmmakers had to work with, it’s a remarkable tough, gritty and intense film. When the characters finally get together at the end there’s a brief moment of calm when Clutch and Casey realize they’re a family together under the most extreme of circumstances. Mickle knows his film is about his characters, not the effects, or the action or the bloodletting.
One major distraction I had with the screening was the yucky full frame letterboxed digital projection. The colours were muted and dull and the grainy dark images which dominated the entire film only made more obvious the film’s no-budget. It’s a shame because under proper projection conditions – ie. maybe a print transfer, or a ‘Christie’ digital machine the film could have looked much better. Instead we were watching a giant television screen.
This is just part one of a few more After Dark Reviews of some of the best under-the-radar horror and fantasy films coming to your local theatre, underground video store, or Bit Torrent queue list. Enjoy.