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With Jim Mickle’s STAKELAND opening this Friday in a limited
theatrical release, we thought it would be appropriate to look back at Logan
DeSisto’s review of the writer/director’s first feature-length film, MULBERRY
Upon first hearing of MULBERRY STREET, I had my doubts. A
horror movie about rat people invading New York City—what could be more absurd?
At the theater, however, I was surprised to see that the line of people waiting
to buy tickets was twice as long as it was for any other Tribeca entry that
day. My amazement grew as I entered the theater, finding it almost completely
full, always a good sign for any horror film. Obviously the word of mouth
generated by the film’s Friday premiere had been good, and with renewed hope I
settled into my seat, pressing any lingering doubts to the back of my mind.
After a jubilant introduction by writer/director Jim Mickle, the lights began
to dim and my departure down MULBERRY STREET began.
Following an unnerving opening sequence of rats crawling
around the bowels of good old NYC, MULBERRY plunges the viewer headfirst into
the world of Clutch (played by co-scripter Nick Damici), a retired boxer and
all-around good guy. Awaiting the arrival of his daughter from overseas, Clutch
busies himself by mulling around the apartment house were he lives, allowing
the audience to get to know the many characters who populate the film. There is
Kay (Bo Corre), a single mom who has eyes for Clutch, and her son Otto (Javier
Picayo); Coco (Ron Brice), his flamboyant best friend; and Frank (Larry Medich)
and Charlie (Larry Fleischman), who are the oldest of the tenants, both in age
and years lived there. Together they make an urban family, each leaning on the
other for help and support while their building decays around them.
Unbeknownst to these six residents, the world around their
small dwelling is changing. Vicious rat attacks are taking place throughout the
city, spreading a virus that horrifically alters its victims, and nothing can
stop the unfolding mayhem. Eyewitness to this is Casey (Kim Blair), Clutch’s
long-awaited daughter, who is desperately trying to navigate her way home. But
when the city that never sleeps becomes locked down and the inhabitants of 51
Mulberry Street find themselves surrounded by the vicious, mutated humans,
those still alive are forced to battle to remain that way.
Shooting completely on location in lower Manhattan, Mickle
and his crew make incredible use of not only the city, but the relatively small
spaces they had to work with. All the indoor scenes were filmed in the same
apartment, painted and dressed different ways; unable to get the required
permits to shoot the movie, Mickle resorted to guerrilla filmmaking tactics to
get the shots he wanted—many times hiding the camera between cars. He even
lensed the crowd-chaos scenes during a Fourth of July parade, crouching between
parked vehicles to get just the right shots of Blair wandering through the throngs.
At one point, he captures a completely empty playground during the day—a feat
one would likely be unable to pull off twice. It is shots like those that prove
Mickle is truly a master of not only his surroundings, but his camera as well.
When dealing with an ultra-low-budget horror film, the most
difficult element for most directors is the special FX. Mickle takes this
reality in stride, using shadows and profiling to accentuate the gruesome
creations of Adam Morrow and Eyespot Pictures. This makes the transformations
much more believable; the deformed characters are largely cloaked in darkness,
with just enough the light playing on their features to make them appear more
ratlike. Thus, not only are the creatures made to seem more authentic, but the
viewer can become fully engrossed in the film without being distracted by the
The most impressive part of MULBERRY STREET, however, is
neither the location shooting nor the FX; it is the cast. Even though there is
not a “name” among them (for some, this is their first onscreen role, though
you could never tell from their performances), each actor is stellar. Every
performance is not only believable but authentic, and over the course of the
film you begin to care about each character, no matter how minor—truly an
accomplishment in a genre rife with subpar acting and unlikable protagonists.
An allegory for post-9/11 Manhattan, MULBERRY STREET is
anything but your run-of-the-mill horror flick. Truly a New York story, it is a
leap above almost every other low-budget zombie film and one of the highlights
of the Tribeca fest, and should certainly not be missed. Although there’s no
question that it is a B-movie, the film is as close to an A as one can get.
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