Sunday 27 December 2009

Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street

With the tenants of a run-down tenement building facing what seems to be a zombie attack, this seems at first like an unofficial remake of [o]Rec, but when you realise it’s a fairly old film only now getting a UK release the influence of 28 Days Later becomes much more obvious: in the moody shots, the excellent use of music (The Walkmen’s The Rat is used superbly to set off one of the bloodiest scenes), the use of colour filters, and the fact that the attackers aren’t actually zombies, though they have a taste for human flesh.

No, Mulberry Street has caught itself a rat virus. The infected get twitchy, grow whiskers, and eventually scurry around on all fours looking for food, in one of my favourite uses of abnormal physical movement to cause fear since Stuart Gordon asked dancers to play the half-human villagers in Dagon. In the same way that Gary McMahon’s Rain Dogs chimed with anyone who had suffered a leaky roof or dripping tap – the bloody implacability of water! – Mulberry Street will elicit nods of appreciation if you’ve ever had a rodent in the house. Scenes where the ratties move behind walls and between floorboards are imaginative, frightening, and clearly created by people who have heard the pitter-patter of too-tiny feet themselves.

Another of the movie’s strengths is its interesting set of characters, the leads being an aging ex-boxer and a Polish barmaid. Their tentative romance is very sweet, and could have made for a decent film in itself – though it wouldn’t take Freud to find the relationship’s outcome rather icky, given how quickly it follows a reunion with his daughter. Nick Damici makes a very unusual and engaging lead. When he straps his hands and starts punching out ratties, you may well wonder what he could do in a Rodriguez or Tarantino film.

What’s more, Damici co-wrote the script, and it’s a good one. You’d expect an actor to write himself some good long speeches, but no – there’s not a word of unnecessary dialogue, and what there is is often very funny (“he’s turned into a big f**king rat!”). Damici has previously appeared in Law & Order, and that show’s New York naturalism is here in both script and performances, even though (or perhaps because?) many of the cast are apparently non-actors.

Any criticisms? Well, the actual plague rats (as opposed to the infected humans) are a bit silly, but in a charming sort of way. The inclusion of “Zombie Virus on” in the title is an innovation of the UK distributor (so don’t blame the film-makers for the film’s lack of zombies!) and the UK DVD cover features people who aren’t in the movie, but if a snazzy cover will get more people to pick this very entertaining film up in Blockbuster, what’s the harm?

Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street, Jim Mickle (dir.), US, 84 mins

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