Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rats in the Walls

The zombie apocalypse finds a different wrinkle in Mulberry Street (2006, directed by Jim Mickle). Instead of the walking dead, this film posits a plague of rats and people who have been turned into rat monsters. It's not quite as silly as it sounds, though some of the creature make-up is risible. In all other respects this is a standard zombie film, though it gets points for an urban setting that most zombie filmmakers avoid.

The plot finds the inhabitants of a New York apartment building trapped by a plague of frothing nutters. The central character is Clutch, an ex-boxer who has just received word that his daughter, an Iraq war veteran, is returning home. His neighbors are Kay, the woman upstairs, his gay friend, Coco, and the cranky old timers, Charlie and Frank. When the shit hits the fan, they find themselves besieged. Meanwhile, Clutch's daughter, Casey, has to navigate a city that's beginning to shut itself down. There's a new contagion spreading through the city, you see, spread at first by rats, and then by their victims who are mutating into rat-like creatures.

This movie reminds me of the Times Square exploitation movies that used to be made by fly by night film companies in the late seventies. It has something of that grit, most of it provided by its summer in the city setting. The urban setting is both an object of the film and a background texture. There's a strong focus on the neighborhood where it's set and the diversity of the people who live there. That's something that's natural to its setting. It's something that would feel forced in a zombie movie set in the countryside, where people are much more homogenous. Further, the images of bodies in the streets, of a peculiarly urban disaster, resonates in a post 9/11 social milieu in the way a rural version of the same story would not.

Director Jim Mickle gets the most out of his budget, often filming guerrilla-style, but he's weak on the action scenes. Perhaps of necessity, whether to disguise his lack of resources or to disguise the special effects, he cuts his action films so fast and films them with such a frenetic camera, that what's happening on screen is often unclear. Viewers who have grown up with chaos cinema probably won't care about that, but it's something that I've gotten tired up over the last decade. He's on surer ground with his character work. I like the idea that Casey has visible scars. It's a self-effacing choice on the part of actress Kim Blair, who is disguising her good looks behind the prosthetics. I like the fact that there's an ambiguous relationship between Clutch and Coco, too, Platonic though it probably is. We learn, for instance, that Frank is was at Anzio as a demolitions man, which foreshadows his ultimate fate. There are subtleties of character here, even in the breakneck last act. Writing is something that is independent of budget, and Mickle and screenwriter/lead actor Nick Damici take full advantage of this.

One wishes that there had been better resources, though. The main flaw of the movie is its monsters. They're fine so long as they're obscured by shadows or by shaky cam, but when they're in full view, they take the viewer right out of the movie (well, this viewer, anyway). One wishes for a budget for more extras, too. As zombie movies go, this one feels a little depopulated. They try hard to disguise both faults, and sometimes they succeed, but eventually it adds up. I can't fault their ambitions. I can't really fault their execution, either. It's just that their best efforts weren't ever going to cover what they lacked.

Current tally: 26 films.
20 first time viewings.

From Around the Web

Eric over at Expelled Gray Matter has mixed feelings about Dream Home.

Bob over at Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind casts a skeptical eye on the new documentary, My Amityville Horror.

Dr. AC finds the Soul of a Monster, and sees All the Colors of the Dark at Horror 101.

Wednesday's Child endures The Crucible of Horror over at In It for the Kills (aka Deep Red Rum).

Toxaemia spends her Monday looking at tentacle porn with Demon Beast Invasion.


Kev D. said...

Nice review... I completely agree. This is mostly cookie cutter stuff. It isn't terrible, but certainly doesn't offer up anything new, and there are enough plotholes to cause some concern.


Wednesday's Child said...

There really aren't enough horror movies about rats, considering how frightened people are of them in real life. Interesting thoughts here on low-budget action sequences. Also, I had to look up the word "risible," and I'm so glad I did, because what a useful word to have in my vocab when my hobby is reviewing trash cinema!

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Hi, Kev. I really liked Mickle's Stakeland when I saw it last year. I think he's growing as a filmmaker, so I'm predisposed to cut him some slack for his early films. This isn't bad, but it's not transcendent, either.

Hi, Wednesday. There aren't enough movies about rats. There should be more. Glad to add to the toolbox, too. Risible is a great word.