Wednesday, 4 June 2014

MULBERRY STREET - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Jim Mickle is unquestionably one of best horror directors of the new millennium and writer/star collaborator Nick Damici is right up there with him - a powerhouse combo!

Nick Damici should be the new Charles Bronson.
He's more handsome and he can act.
He writes screenplays too!
Mulberry Street (2006) ****
Dir. Jim Mickle
Starring: Nick Damici, Kim Blair, Bo Corre, Javier Picayo, Ron Brice

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Gentrification in Manhattan is about to force low-income dwellers from their tattered walk-up on the legendary Mulberry Street, but they face a far more formidable foe than greedy developers and upwardly-mobile scum. Rats, you see, are not only plaguing the area, but are biting people, their diseased fangs and saliva spreading a monstrous virus. The city responds swiftly by trying to isolate the plague, but as the scourge bursts out beyond the confines of the neighbourhood, the entire subway system is closed and all vehicular traffic, save for emergency vehicles, is banned. If the virus merely killed people, that'd be one thing, but horror movies aren't made to offer-up mere heart-stoppage to their victims. They need to suffer and in turn, cause others to suffer even more.

Welcome to Jim Mickle's first feature film, Mulberry Street, a nerve-shredding debut of the highest order and one which magnificently laid the groundwork for his stunning sophomore effort Stake Land and his third feature, We Are What We Are, the brave, creepy atmospheric re-imagining of Jorge Michel Grau's gothic Mexican cannibalism-fest of the same name. All of them feature screenplays by star Nick Damici and the pair's latest is Cold in July, a star-studded crime thriller based on Joe R. Lansdale's weird Dostoyevsky-Jim-Thompson-like novel which just debuted in the Director Fortnight at Cannes.

Mickle and Damici are hotter than hot and Mulberry Street is the one that demands to be discovered beyond its solid following of hard-core horror fans. The movie delivers the goods and then some. Produced on a budget of $50K after Mickle delivered his thesis film at NYU, it's a marvel of intelligent writing and stunning direction. The screenplay offers what could have been another hackneyed band-of-misfits against a virus gone literally mad and infuses it with terse dialogue, fully-fleshed characters, dollops of social commentary (albeit subtle) and within its world, a narrative that moves succinctly from one plausible plot point to the next. Thematically, the picture examines the meaning of family and does so with a greater resonance than one would expect from a low-budget horror film as its community of indelible characters - related by love, friendship, respect and, in some cases blood - face a 24-hour period of utter terror as they protect themselves from an ever-mounting army of hideously transformed bite-victims.

If you let that cute, little rat bite you, this is your fate.
Damici plays Clutch, a boxer who wisely left the world of pugilistic endeavours rather than suffer the inevitable punch-drunk effects of one-too-many roundhouses to the head. He's trim, sharp and welcomes each morning with vigorous runs through the mean streets of NYC. He commiserates with the denizens of the street regarding the recent eviction notices everyone has been getting for the inevitable gentrification of the apartment building and tough as he is, there's an overwhelming sense of futility Clutch faces with when the notion of fighting back comes up in discussion.

Cannibal down the chimney.
His best friend Coco (Ron Brice) is a drag-queen and surrogate Big Brother to Clutch's 20-something daughter Casey (Kim Blair) and the two men happily and excitedly prepare for her return home on this especially hot, muggy Manhattan day. Casey's been in a VA hospital healing from both the physical and emotional effects of her harrowing tour of duty during America's War on Terror in Iraq. Since Dad's a fit ex-boxer and daughter's a soldier, you can probably imagine the tag-team they'll make against any showdowns with mouth-foaming part-rat-part-vampire-flesh-eating-blood-drinking-zombie abominations of what was once human before the virus.

A Polish MILF w/a baseball bat!
Clutch, being a long-single widower, takes a liking to Kay (Bo Corre), an Eastern European immigrant, single Mom, MILF and waitress at the local bar down the street. He even puts in quality time with Mom's rebellious teenage son Otto (Javier Picayo), teaching him boxing on the roof of the tenement they all live in. The lovely lady is also going to need rescuing from a bar full of mutants. Carnage is guaranteed, if not romance. The virus comes home to roost in the walk-up when WWII vet Frank (Larry Medich), recently diagnosed with cancer, demands that the super Charlie (Larry Fleischman) deal with a plumbing issue. In the building, the rat-bites begin when Charlie is munched in the line of pipe-drainage-duty.

These fuckers mean business!
It's mostly through the super's slow, painful transformation that we get a sense of the sickening debilitations rendered by the virus. Damici and Mickle take us cleverly through a number of threads in addition to that particular POV which effectively give us a sense of greater Manhattan (via Carey's long trek home across the island sans public transit), the local bar and neighbourhood (mostly via hot Polish Kay) and through the residents, we get a fuller picture of the general state of being within the seedy, old but still homey digs our chief protagonists have made a life for themselves in.

This recipe is a perfect stew for terror, but it takes a great director to make the princely sum of $50k cook up real nice and Jim Mickle never disappoints. Compositions, camera movement and lighting are taste-tempting treats of virtuosity and Mickle's coverage during set-pieces and even quiet moments are full of variety.

Some of the suspense sequences are sheer pants-and-undie fillers: a few harrowing rescues, alleyway fisticuffs, a mad drive down Mulberry Street, a mutant slithering down a chimney like a cannibal Santa Claus, more fisticuffs in narrow tenement hallways, numerous door battering moments courtesy of hungry mutants, a tear-ass chase through basement corridors, and yes, rooftop fisticuffs.

Mickle never resorts to the usual fall-backs of endless closeups, whack-a-mole cutting, herky-jerky moves galore and all the other egregious directorial tropes of less-talented filmmakers (including some of those big-budget idiots like Sam Mendes, J.J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan, et all).

On two-cents, Mickle manages to capture Manhattan streets teeming with activity and even more, the same streets bereft of life or movement. Film after film since this debut, he's never disappointed us with his versatility and artistry.

The basement is no place to die.
There's nary a bad performance in the whole film and many of the actors were recruited from actual locals on Mulberry Street including those who were residents of the tenement slum they shot in. As an actor, Damici continues to dazzle. This guy could well have given the likes of Charles Bronson a run for his money in the 70s. He's not only more handsome, but his range as an actor is wide. In fact, Damici handles tenderness and humour with the same believable levels he brings to ass-kicking. He also never shies away from expressing fear when it's warranted. He's taciturn when he needs to me, but now and again, the man is purely, utterly and totally shit-fucking-scared.

Making use of real locations with a tight guerrilla team, this is a movie that pulsates with the naturalistic miss-en-scene of an authentic time and place, but splashed with the crimson of fantastical horror-hijinx and amidst the carnage, there's a sense of humanity, love and yes, the aforementioned family. Even more heart-wrenching is the notion of how families are often driven by selfless acts of sacrifice to benefit those they love. This is a theme and emotional core that began with this film and has been an integral part of every Mickle-Damici collaboration to date.

These guys make real movies. They put most studio pictures to shame and frankly. a lot of low-budget indies too.

Mulberry Street and other Jim Mickle pictures are available at Amazon. Feel free to order directly from the links below and in so doing support the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner.