Tribeca Film Fest Report #3

The Tribeca Film Festival's Midnight program is full of gore and mayhem and lots of viral infections. You might want to wear a facemask and avoid close contact with your fellow festival attendees.

Mulberry Street

I bet it's Bin Laden, that rat bastard.

Indie horror films often don't feel very, you know, indie: they ape plot- and FX-heavy, character-light studio films and fail, often, because they cannot transcend the limitations of their low budgets. But Mulberry Street is an ultralow-budget horror with a style and flavor all its own, driven by character and reveling in its utter lack of coin as, it seems, the freedom and permission it needed to be clever and original. Director Jim Mickle, who cowrote the script with one of his stars, Nick Damici, spins a tale of the newly aggressive rats of New York City turning on the human population: vicious bites transmit a virus that mutates the victims into murderous, mindless "rat-people." Yes, it's another entry in the "infection noir" subgenre that has bubbled up out of the zeitgeist in the era of SARS and avian-flu fears, but Mickle limits the visual gore, relying instead on squishy sound FX, low light, and the audience's imagination to scare up unease and anxiety, and he skillfully utilizes the inherent craziness of the city as free backdrop -- there's always a siren, a crowd, cops standing around on a corner to be surreptitiously shot. But what lingers is the Noo Yawk City-ness of the film: The story focuses around the residents of an old tenement building on the title street and appropriates their genuine paranoia and pragmatism to create more credible characters than horror films typically can muster. I haven't seen an ultralow-budget film this sophisticated, in all ways, since, well, Mickle's 2002 short The Underdogs, which won Best Independent Film at the I-Con Independent Film Festival in 2003, at which I was a judge -- though I swear, I didn't connect the two films till after I'd seen and been astonished by Mulberry Street. [visit the film's official site]

Black Sheep

It's an exciting time to be in the agricultural sciences, and a profitable one.

There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand, and two million people. You figure the odds. Where Mulberry Street plays the infection noir genre as, well, dead serious, Black Sheep, the debut film from writer-director Jonathan King, takes a ludicrous concept -- genetic engineering transforms placid woolies into man-eating monsters, and oh yeah, anyone bitten mutates into a monster sheep, too -- and plays it as totally straight-up horror. And so the result is that it's all even funnier than it might have been if it were presented as a joke in the first place. Ranging over the thousands of rolling acres of a remote sheep ranch, the film takes on aspects of movies like Jurassic Park and King Kong while inevitably calling to mind classic Monty Python -- remember "Harold, the intelligent sheep"? -- and becomes, as all the best send-ups do, a thorough tweaking of the genre as well as an excellent example of the same. A June release in the U.S. is planned for this one, and you won't want to miss it. [visit the film's official site]


MaryAnn Johanson (email me)

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