Zomies but with a 'turns people into killer rats' disease.
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Zombie Virus on Mulberry Street (2007)
11th May 09
The residents of a tenement building on Mulberry Street try to survive an outbreak of some kind of virus that makes its victims morph into hungry giant rat people.
Clutch is a retired boxer living in an old, run down, tenement building on Mulberry Street in New York city, and this film starts with Clutch finishing his early morning fishing down on the pier and jogging back home through the very familiar sites of early morning New York. I say familiar because this is New York, where every street corner looks like a movie set, and in this case it is; every street corner shop, elevated subway train, steam vent, darkly lit bar and overly lit liquor store looks like you've seen it before. This is the movie New York of The French Connection, The Warriors, Smoke, hell I could even go as far as to say Die Hard with a Vengeance and Ghostbusters spring to mind, although the tenement building setting does remind me of classic apartment building movies, like Tenement, Death Wish 3 and even Batteries Not Included.
Anyway, Clutch's apartment building is filled with a rich bunch or characters. We have Clutch, his best friend Coco (archetypal big gay black man), old guy Charlie, his friend Frank, the disabled war veteran Peter (played by Antone Pagan, who was in Stripes, The Warriors and New York Ripper, believe it or not) and hot aging single mum Kay on the top floor, who has a bit of a thing for Clutch, which kinda winds Coco up when she asks him about him. Clutch himself is too busy at the moment to give it much thought though, what with his daughter Casey coming home today after serving her country in the Middle East, and he hasn't even finished baking her a cake yet.
But other stuff is going on in New York City. There's lots of talk of rats and how overrun they are by them at the moment and it's on the news too; rats biting people, people becoming infected with a nasty virus and people attacking other people. In fact, the first third of the movie is very slow burning, concentrating on character development (and an unusual bunch of characters they are too, no clichés in sight) and hinting at the impending doom rather than showing it. The shifty shot of some guy snarling in a back alley, the overly sweaty growly guy in Kay's bar, the cardboard boxes just off the main road that conceal the schoolgirl's body, it all adds to the impending sense that something bad is going to happen. And as the news reports get worse, and more people are getting bitten by infected rats then biting other people, New York slowly shuts itself down, martial law comes in to place and, with the subway shut down, Casey tries to make her way home across Manhattan by any mean necessary.
Essentially what the makers of this film have done is taken the age old zombie plot (infection breaks out, survivors hold up in a building, fighting the horde off until morning when they hope for rescue) and transplanted it in to the centre of New York. Now, the filming New York sequences are beautiful, and while it's hard to mess up filming New York, praise has to been given for how rich and believable this New York is. The first five minute sequence, Clutch's jog back from the bay through a montage of New York streets to a fitting score, is breathtaking. Similarly once you get inside the tenement you totally buy it, with residents being completely believable and staying in character throughout the impending zombie siege as they defend their small, crummy apartments with the kind of pride you expect from New Yorkers (keep your eyes open for the old guy who's lived in the building 54 years, has an oxygen tank and still does his best to fight the zombies off).
Where this movie falls down is with the infected. They're not zombies (so the title is misleading - this was just known as Mulberry St in the US), but only in the same way that the zombies in 28 Days Later weren't zombies either, merely infected humans, no matter what the fan sites say. This time though the infected have been bitten by rats, and the infected begin to display rat like characteristics almost immediately. Big teeth I can buy (like the guys on the cover - they're not in the film by the way) but the big snouty rat noses look a little bit ridiculous, which is a crying shame. Not that you ever get to see them for that long though, Mulberry St is very fond of going in to shaky-cam mode whenever there's even the hint of action. This is a great cinematic trick for covering up the cheap special effects, but it's not great for action continuity and it has a habit of cheapening some of the movies better set pieces (Kay's escape from the rat zombie to the bar's basement springs immediately to mind).
And as much as I love to see guys in contamination suits arriving at the end of every zombie movie (who doesn't?) I was hoping to see more than two, and it is a shame that the story felt the need to reassemble all the characters still walking (infected or not) to the roof for a half-arsed, ran out of money, showdown. But hey, I guess with limited budgets these kind of things happen.
Despite the criticism however, Mulberry St is well worth seeing and comes strongly recommended for you thinking people that want to see more than just teenagers making out and then getting killed. The film for the most part is a strong zombie siege style movie, that’s only really let down by its all of a sudden lame ending. And it's refreshing to see a zombie movie (even though it's not really a zombie film even though it follows the classic format) with strong characterisations acted by good actors under keen and assured direction, despite its flaws. With more budget assigned to the action sequences, and with a better ending, this could easily have been a classic. Either way, it's still well worth catching if you can see past its shortcomings, which I'm sure most of you will.
Versions Just released in the UK with a making of documentary. The US version goes under the more sensible title of just Mulberry St.