Directed by Jim Mickle
Take all the small budget, large scale apocalypse movies we saw at Fantasia this year (Right at Your Door, The Signal, End of the Line, etc.), make them even smaller scale and take away more than half their likely budget and you’ll get Mulberry Street. With that much against it (as it were), how does it manage to be one of the most successful of the bunch?
There’s an old adage in Hollywood about a good film needing a good script to be created (or maybe it’s just common sense), and therein lies the secret of Mulberry Street’s effectiveness. Originally written on scale that would’ve cost millions to make happen, screenwriter/star Nick Damaci looked at his original idea, decided to set the entire thing in one apartment complex (specifically one apartment, his own) and leave a lot more to the imagination than most filmmakers have the balls to contemplate. I mean, we’re talking about a wererat movie (yes, people who turn into rats) that never actually clearly shows the creatures, for God’s sake! How is that possible?
A lot of it is keeping things simple; their budget was not to the point where they could afford to make good looking wererat makeup, so they kept the creatures in the dark, showing them in quick flashes. There’s something to be said for this approach; personally I would rather my mind conjure up what these things really look like than be disappointed by a cheaply done makeup job.
That’s actually a theme to Mulberry Street; leaving it up to the viewer. There are no moments in which there’s a lot of exposition to explain pretty much anything; we gain insight into who these characters are and what’s going on in the lives through watching their actions. This is an incredibly realistic approach if you have just enough to drop some hints but never actually come right out and say anything about any of them blatantly. It allows the viewers to kind of paint their own backstories and interpretations, to actually use our imaginations; something nearly unheard of in this day and age.
The characters consist of a former boxer waiting for his daughter to make her way across the city to get home to him as the outbreak quickly spreads, a single, attractive mother with a job that just barely allows them to scrape by, an old man on his way out of this world who is lucky enough to be surrounded by friends who care about him, and various others; these are the kinds of people you would find living on a New York block 30, 40 years ago. Today there’s too much fear of your neighbor or the person across the hall to make such a setting terribly believable, but to me that was just part of the charm of Mulberry Street. During the Q&A after the film, Mickle was asked if they intentionally created the kind of neighborhood that just doesn’t exist in NYC anymore, a sad but true fact that both he and Damaci were all too aware of.
As the outbreak spreads, of course the pace of the film picks up quite a bit, and that’s where some people, myself included, started having issues. Back to their lack of budget, or maybe they’re just keeping up with new trends, much of the action is filmed with a very jittery hand; shaky cam runs rampant here and it’s just as annoying as always. Just once I’d like to see an attack sequence filmed from about 20 yards away so we can actually see what was going on, you know?
But really, the issues with Mulberry Street end there, though I’m sure that won’t be the same for everyone. Those looking for a straight-up monster movie should go elsewhere; those who want an epic, apocalyptic movie can find more to their liking in something like 28 Weeks Later. But if you’re in the mood for a tense and terrifying claustrophobic heart attack, seek out Mulberry Street and see just how much can be done with just the passion to make something different.
4 out of 5
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