Contains mild spoilers.
One of the things I most enjoy with this blog is discovering genuinely good films I'd never have come across normally. As I've stated in the past. I've always been a big zombie and horror film fan and I'd watched most the popular films I've reviewed so far before at one time or another, but any film off the beaten track was generally missed through ignorance. What I haven't enjoyed since starting this blog is the marketing deception that takes place to make films seem more than they are. It seems that promoting the idea that the film involves zombies by say, including the word zombie in the title, or throwing a quote with the word zombie or even a picture of an apocalyptic horde of zombies across the cover results in better sales. Now I'm not saying the modern interpretation of the term and idea of zombie that has been broadened to include anything that exhibits frenzied blood thirsty unruly behaviour or a pathological herd mentality is wrong per se, but call me old fashioned, surely to actually qualify as a zombie requires a bit of the old dying and coming back stuff.
So here we have Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street and a cover with said scene of snarling apocalyptic zombie horde. The giveaway clue if I'd had known, would have been that in the US this was marketed as just Mulberry Street; note the lack of Zombie. Now, we do have a contagious virus that turns people into ravenous crazy monsters with a taste for human flesh, they do seem to have single one track-minds driven by primal instincts and desires and they do seem to be able to take quite some damage, but dying first doesn't seem to be a prerequisite. There is one small caveat however; an early victim of the virus appears at the start of the crisis to be dead who later returns to dispatch one of the early victims, the janitor of the apartment block. This isn't repeated and she may have just been taking a nap but I'm pretty convinced she was supposed to be dead so I'll, and this is with quite some reticence I'll admit, tentatively allow this to be called a zombie film.
Ok, so all that out the way, what about the film? Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street tells the tale of a dangerous contagious rat virus spreads first to the residents in and around a small apartment block on Mulberry Street, Manhattan and also isolated cases in the underground we hear about on the news, then later across the whole of the city. Spread at first through rat bites, the infection turns victims into frenzied mutant rat-people with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Early symptoms are hairy ears, lethargy and hallucinations with the final stage leads to becoming full blown mutant hybrid rat-human monstrosities with a hunger for cheese; ok I made the cheese bit up.
Mickle does a good job of contrasting the lives of the small group of six in the apartment block with the backdrop of a city slowly falling apart. You get the tight localised picture from main protagonist Clutch (Nick Damici), a retired boxer, his neighbours Kay (Bo Corre) who lives with her teenage son and Coco (Ron Brice) interacting amongst an interesting and varied assortment of characters, and the wider picture from following Clutch's daughter Casey (Kim Blair) journey across New York on foot back home after being released from a military hospital for returning Middle East veterans.
Directed by Jim Mickle builds a tight highly stylish apocalyptic scenario with confident characters and well paced suspenseful action scenes. Given the quite frankly absurd even for the genre premise, it does a good job telling a fluent sincere story never resorting to over the top gore or effects, or parody, as many b-movies do, and because of this it never loses its identity. Many apocalyptic films start from the point of no return or just after, and it was refreshing to watch an attempt to tell the story of normal everyday people and society going through the confusion and carnage of the world falling apart. My only concern would be once going through the efforts to get to the tipping point, with mutants and death on every corner and in every house, Mickle didn't quite know where to take it and the film loses its way a little and turns into a bit of a traditional survival story of a small group holding out against the world.
The frenzied rat mutants are stylish and brutal and the makeup and effect team have done a great job of creating authentic albeit preposterous monsters and whether alone or in groups they never feel amateurish or actually that over the top. Mickle has a real flare for using music and highly stylised cinematography to enhance the atmosphere and isn't afraid to mix and match shaky in-the scene-action camera work with steady artful and even slow-mo shots and in these respects it reminded me very much of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Given the limited budget and resources Mickle has done a remarkable job.
A dark brooding story with a slow character driven build up Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street has a lot going for it. If you'd have told me going we weren't going to be concerning ourselves with zombies but with rat mutants I'd have expected a hammy b-movie full of over the top gore and would probably have given this a miss and perhaps this is why they distanced themselves from the premise. What we have though is not hammy or amateurish but a high stylish apocalyptic horror story with a healthy mix of tight close claustrophobic tension and a grander apocalyptic-scale vision of the city going to hell. Tense, stylish and scary despite its ludicrousness, I really enjoyed it, 7/10.