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The rat problem in New York takes a turn for the worse when a plague carried by the rats turns folks bitten by said rats into flesh eating rat people. A group of folks in a Manhattan apartment complex avoid the plague, but are caught fending for themselves once the island is put under quarantine. Time to call the exterminator.
Let's get this out there right now: despite the premise of MULBERRY ST. (the feature length directorial debut from director and co-writer Jim Mickle), this feels more akin to a zombie movie. I know, folks aren't the living dead in this one, but neither were the folks in 28 DAYS LATER, if you recall. It feels like a zombie flick due to the film taking paths similar to well-known zombie flicks like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (a group of people taking refuge against the infected hordes) and the previously-mentioned 28 DAYS LATER. And despite the next-to-no budget (amongst other things), this is one of the better slices from last year's After Dark Horrorfest pie.
Right off the bat, I have to say that the atmosphere this puppy brings is awesome. Obviously, the budget was the main reasons why Mickle was forced to take this route, and you'll be glad he did. Combine claustrophobic and grungy apartments, restaurants and bars with oh-so-important lighting that heightens and magnifies every fear (and helps to hide the rat people so you don't exactly see what the hell happened), topped off with some appropriate frantic camera movements, and you have one scary-looking film.
Another thumbs-up for this film are the characters. Instead of your typical (or atypical, depending on your POV) horny and brainless teens being forced to rub what meager brain cells they have together to save their worthless asses, MULBERRY ST. has folks you generally give a damn about. They're real, they aren't stereotypes, and they're even funny at times (the old guy with the oxygen was good for a couple of chuckles). I should also point out that you aren't dealing with A-list actors, either. Props to all!
Unfortunately, despite the amazing job Mickle was able to do with the small budget, it unfortunately comes back to bite the film in the ass. The techniques Mickle used that made the film so rewarding (the shaky cam, the lighting, etc.) become distracting at points, making their use to cover up that much more obvious. Also the fact that the film focuses on leaving a lot up to the audience to determine what's going on may not sit well with those used to being spoonfed plots, but such is the era we live in. Also, while the gore is there, there's not a whole lot in the context of things (this is a zombie movie, after all). The plasma that is here, though (bloody flesh eating scenes and a bashed skull), is effective, given the way it's shot.
Overall, this was a pleasant surprise for me. You don't see many low budget films with a gem of a cast like this, nor an atmosphere that captures the dread of practically being trapped and hunted like rats. The budget may handcuff the film at times, but the film for the most part gets out unscathed. Bottom line, this is my kind of RATATOUILLE.
Video: One of the first things you'll notice with the 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is the amount of grain (again, the budget rears its shoestring head). There's also some colour bleeding and a lack of detail in some of the dark shots, with some liberal use of green in others, thanks to post production. A grungy yet acceptable transfer for a grungy film.
Audio: The only option here is the English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track with English and Spanish subtitles. Like the video, the audio is appropriately rough around the edges. The surround channels kick into high gear with the more frantic scenes, though the dialogue tends to become muffled. The score is pretty good (though lacking a bit in spots), and you have to love the placement of The Walkmen song, The Rat.
Finally, we get more than what's been the standard for the majority of this crop of DVDs from last year's Horrorfest. Unfortunately, what's here is rather short and leaves you wanting quite a bit more. First up are those ever-annoying start-up trailers, including trailers for the festival itself (both the 2006 and 2007 editions), WRISTCUTTERS, THE EYE remake and the digital cable horror network, FEARnet.
Next is a Storyboards section that has the storyboards for selected scenes play at the top of the screen while the filmed counterparts play above them. I wish more storyboard-to-screen comparisons were done like this, as you can see where stuff was changed and so on.
Following that are two deleted scenes, which don't add much the final cut and were wisely left out. Even though it's obvious, I do wish that there was an optional commentary from Mickle explaining why they were left out, but that's being nitpicky.
Early Director's Sketches is a quick slideshow of equally quick sketches of various scenes, including varying designs of the rat people.
Make-up Test shows off the early and final designs for the rat people make-up. I will say that the initial design was laughable bad (think Halloween mask), and was rightfully jettisoned. Plus, the actors couldn't see.
Outtakes, for the most part, are your typical goof-ups, with a few chuckles here and there, but aren't rip-roaring funny.
Behind The Scenes: The Rats is a somewhat interesting but bland look at the filming and training of the rats used in the film. There are some cool shots of filming with miniatures, but are shorter than my last date. Also, no ambient music or voiceovers explaining what's going on makes it even more boring.
Lastly, we get the Webisodes for the Miss Horrorfest Contest, which if you've seen them by now, you aren't missing anything here.
I dug the slipcase depicting the art for the film, which is minimal yet effective. That, and the dude kind of looks like Lance Henriksen.
A well-executed film that overcomes its budget restraints, MULBERRY ST. is one of the few gems out of last year's After Dark Horrorfest. Mickle and company should be proud with what they've accomplished here, and while the low budget shows itself at times, it's still one of the better films out of the bunch. The extras on the DVD, while a welcome addition, don't even begin to cover the whole project, and leave a lot unsaid. Keep an eye out for Mickle's next project, as I'm sure he'll have the budget he deserves by then.