Monday, March 15, 2010

Mulberry Street (USA, 2006)

For all the yays and nays that Jim Mickle's first feature-length film has gotten since its release, Mulberry Street may indeed be more good than bad but in the end it is simply another low budget film that largely overcomes its budget to effectively present an ever-so-slightly semi-different take on an old idea. Whether or not you like it will probably depend on how you like your infected cannibal mutants cum zombie film, how far you’re willing to overlook (or, perhaps, how much you respect) budgetary restraints, and/or whether you like your films filled with characters or just fodder. But like so many genre films, Mulberry Street is less startlingly original than simply another interesting version of a tale told many times before in films such as The Night of the Living Dead (1968 / trailer)—and the countless zombie films that have since followed—and the deadly infectious virus films such as Rabid (1977), both versions of The Crazies (1973 / trailer and 2010 / trailer), any given film version of the book I am Legend, the flick 28 Days Later (2002 / trailer), etc., etc., and etc. As such, it is hardly surprising that the film was released in England as Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street.
Featuring a truly excellent score and some fine acting, Mulberry Street takes its leisurely time to introduce the various characters and plot lines, all the while the slow spread of the sickness throughout New York happening in passing over the ever-increasing reports on the radio and televisions in the background; by the time anyone really pays any attention to them, it is too late. The focus of the film is a tenement on Mulberry Street, which is the "main" street of what remains of Little Italy, a neighborhood slowly losing its footing to its ever-expanding neighbor, Chinatown. (Oddly enough, considering the overpowering presence of Chinatown in the neighborhood, there isn’t a single Asian character in the movie.) We meet Clutch (Nick Damici, who can also be seen for a second or two in the background of In the Cut [2003 / trailer]), a former boxer, as he packs up from fishing down on the Hudson and jogs on home, a scene that functions well to both introduce NYC and Clutch's physical prowess as well as to indicate the economic social level of the characters involved: no yuppies or middle-class suburbanites here, just the simple, honest city folk struggling to survive any way they can. In the microcosm of the tenement and neighborhood, we meet the others: Coco (Ron Brice), the token gay black guy and family friend; Kay (Bo Corre), the attractive single mom and waitress who feels a tingle for Clutch; her teenage son Otto (Javier Picayo); Charlie the Super (Larry Fleischman); Frank (Larry Medich), an invalid WWII vet chained to an oxygen tank and a variety of other typical New Yorkers. At the same time, across town somewhere, Clutch's emotionally and physically scarred daughter Casey (Kim Blair, wearing a much-too-effective sports bra under her wife-beater) is on her way home from a VA hospital. As the rat-virus breaks out and the infrastructure collapses, she makes her way home by found bike and stolen pickup even as she has to fend off the attacking rat-zombies while Clutch first tries to get Kay safely back to the house from her bar job and then, once his family has been reunited, to survive the night in their beleaguered tenement.
A nicely unpretentious horror film, Mulberry Street benefits greatly from its actors, who are uniformly great in their parts, and from the time spent on the believable characters themselves before the rat shit hits the fan. The almost cinema vérité camerawork of the street scenes is effectively urban and reflects the situation well, marred occasionally only by an overuse of the murky shaky cam and overly quick editing. It says something about the quality of the film that its numerous narrative and logical flaws—the most obvious of many being: How can it be, for example, that in the city of Bernie Goetz, no one in the tenement has a gun? Why do some people turn into rat zombies in minutes and others require hours? And why do the rat zombies only seriously lunch on the victims that aren’t main characters and leave the tenants of the house to simply convert? Why only NYC?—only become apparent after the film is over and the shock of the decidedly existentialist ending wears off. Mulberry Street may not have anything to say, but at least what it does say it says well.

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