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In a post-apocalyptic world, a nameless policeman referred to as "Officer" travels the highways of Brazil seeking out the demon known as The Dark Rider. The Rider is responsible for opening the seven gateways of hell and bringing about the end times, leaving zombies lumbering about. To make matters worse, The Dark Rider can assume the identity of another person through possession of their body.
After reading the synopsis of this film, Ryuhei Kitamura's VERSUS sprang to mind. Must have been the idea of a nameless smarmy protagonist battling zombies with a gun and a samurai sword. Whatever the reason, BEYOND THE GRAVE (known in its native Brazil as PORTO DOS MORTOS) is director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro's feature debut after doing short films and documentaries for the first part of his career. And despite some flaws, BEYOND THE GRAVE isn't a bad debut at all.
When you think horror movies, you generally don't think of having them in Brazil. Apart from the favelas, the country is the opposite of what you'd expect from a post-apocalyptic tale. Yet Pinheiro had found the desolate locales that he required, and they're fantastic. It's just one part of the cinematography used in the film. Expertly framed shots (like the opening scene in which Officer takes down a bunch of crooks in their hideout) and imaginative camerawork all make for a stylish and kick-ass presentation akin to what we Westerners see in our action films. Toss in a couple of one-liners, some bloody action sequences and nods to other horror films, and it's hard to not take notice.
Yet despite the action, the cinematography, and the ability to stretch the budget, the film falters in places. Given that it's a low-budget affair, the zombie effects range in quality from good to hilariously bad. Also, the choreography for some of the action scenes feel amateurish with the exaggerated haymakers and slow reaction times so said punches can connect. It also doesn't help when some of the fights feel like they haven't been given enough time to breathe, as they feel shorter than they should be. Also indicative of the film's Western origins is the sparse script. Officer does meet up with survivors here and there, but they all kind of fade into the background, with Officer and his beef with The Dark Rider taking precedence. Lastly, despite what you'd believe, this isn't a zombie film. Like the survivors Officer happens upon, the walking dead are kind of just "there", and not really integral to the film's main story other than being punching bags.
Despite the film's weak points, it's still an impressive ride, albeit in your typical superficial action movie kind of way. Pinheiro's previous work has granted him an eye for setting up shots and really getting in some great visuals. The pacing and action, despite a few hiccups, are appropriately bloody and hard-hitting. It'll be exciting to see what Pinheiro has in store for his next project, since a debut like this is one that not many first-time directors are able to secure.
Unless you like watermarks, nothing.
BEYOND THE GRAVE took the beauty of Brazil and made it a visual feast with a heavy dose of action and gore on top. While it has a few weak areas, and diehard zombie fans will feel shortchanged, the skill and effort for this project is one that definitely should be recognized and seen.