Apr 292012
 

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BEYOND THE GRAVE AKA PORTO DOS MORTOS [2010]

DIRECTED BY: Davi di Oliveira Pinheiro

WRITTEN BY: Davi di Oliveira Pinheiro

STARRING: Rafael Tombini, Alvera Rosa Costa, Ricardo Sefner, Amanda Lerias

RUNNING TIME: 89 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 


It is the future, and humans are scarce, outnumbered by the flesh-eating zombies that have seemingly taken over.  Driving through this sparsely populated and very dangerous world is the Policial [police officer].   He is on a mission of vengeance, a quest to find and destroy a demon who can pass from body to body.  After entering a tunnel where a group of people live, and killing them, he discovers two teenagers trying to break into a house and they become unwelcome passengers on his journey, a journey where humans are as deadly as zombies and are not automatically who they seem…………..

Brazil is not one of those countries you immediately associate with horror movies, and indeed its horror output is generally quite low, but the ultra-weird Coffin Joe series has a considerable cult following and recently there was a brief Brazilian zombie cycle with one film, Mud Zombies, standing out as an interesting twist on the ‘living dead’ formula.  Then again, to call Beyond The Grave a horror movie is not really doing it justice, because it is combines several genres and subgenres together.    Genre-mixing films like this usually tend to be either a bit of a mess or silly fun, but occasionally something really interesting can result.  I cannot say that Beyond The Grave [which actually translates as Portals Of The Dead, a more accurate title] is a total success, and I feel it will frustrate some, even if you appreciate that it was made for very little money, but it certainly is very interesting, refusing to go down the routes you expect and leaving the audience to work some things out.  In production for three years, it wasn’t the big success in Brazil its creators wished for, but it has slowly but surely been making a name for itself on the international circuit and even winning two awards.

At first it seems like a rather familiar affair. Our ‘hero’ the Policial, may wonder into what looks like a railway tunnel where some other men live, and stylishly dispatch them with gun and sword, but the post-apocalyptic world he drives through, peopled by zombies and small groups of humans trying to survive, is not much different from many others we have seen, from The Walking Dead to most George Romero films.  There are though some neat details, such as the Policial’s car stereo where a lone man is on the radio, broadcasting to possibly ‘the last man on earth’, and bit by bit telling us his back story, a story which involves his sister and reflects what is happening in the present with the Policial having ‘passengers’.  And little by little, the tale gets odder and odder as it becomes as much of a western, or rather a spaghetti western, as a horror film, and the horror element itself changes as it brings in mysticism and demonic possession.  To be honest, the ‘demon’ element of the story is none too original; we’ve seen this kind of thing in Fallen and The First Power, amongst others, but the stylish handling keeps things reasonably fresh.  The plot actually gets a little confusing, with even myself having to work a few things out after the film has finished, but I respect more and more movies that don’t spell everything out and this one certainly doesn’t!  I don’t why a shootout takes place in a house full of green rooms and doors, but it is visually interesting, and it seems that writer/director Oliviera Pinheiro has been influenced more by odder efforts like Dust Devil [the atmosphere is very similar in places] than conventional supernatural tales.

Those looking for lots of zombie thrills will be disappointed, with only a few bloody scuffles with the walking corpses, which must be some of the wimpiest zombies in screen history.  They don’t even seem to want to attack people.  One child zombie just stands there doing nothing as somebody walks past him. They fail to provide much menace at all but I think this is what Pinheiro intended, because he clearly shows that humans can actually be far worse.  One scene has a guy virtually torture a zombie before setting in fire, and we actually feel sorry for the zombie.  These scenes do give us tons of the red stuff and there is stabbing, flesh-ripping etc, though the very low budget obviously meant that this stuff is quite limited and some things occur off screen or are only briefly shown.  The demon-orientated stuff is mostly limited to red eyes, but it’s enough.  Overall though the effects, which don’t appear to be CG, are very good, the only notable exception being the erratic quality of the zombie makeup.

Though there is some brutal fighting, Pinheiro adopts a leisurely approach for his film, which coupled with his strong use of visuals and stylish way of shooting gives Beyond The Grave an almost dreamlike feel.  Perhaps it jars with the subject matter but it’s certainly different. This being a weird sort of spaghetti western, you would expect some Sergio Leone-type staging, with the usual close ups and character positioning, and that is what you get, but you also get lots of slow, elegant camerawork courtesy of Melissandro Bittencour, who also shows off the Brazilian locations to their best advantage.  There are jump-cuts, missing frames and long fades to black, but quite often the camera seems happiest slowly panning around the backs of people’s heads as they talk, or dwelling on strange, almost religious imagery such as someone crying blood, something I haven’t seen since Taste The Blood Of Dracula back in 1968.

Beyond The Grave falters a bit when its characters sit and talk, because neither the acting nor the dialogue is especially good, though I have certainly seen far worse and quite recently too. The occasional moment does work well, though.  There is a really nice bit where someone shows someone else how to dance, and the camera just sits there and watches them, as if the moment is frozen in time.  Unlike at least one other reviewer, I certainly didn’t find bits like this boring, because I liked these people and they are characterised just well enough so that you care about them, it’s just that the acting and dialogue holds things back, though you could also say that the inexperience of much of the cast gives things a kind of realism.  in any case, Rafael Tombini is quite strong as the lead, delivering his lines very well and certainly having a strong presence.  Bizarrely some of the cast seem dubbed.  I haven’t been able to find out if this is the care but it certainly seemed like it.

The pop-orientated score, written by no less than five people, seems oddly appropriate, certainly helping to give some moments dramatic power.  The final scene and end credits have a strange, haunting song playing over them, and, as I was listening to it, I was left with the sense that I wasn’t sure if I liked all of what I had just seen very much, but two days after seeing the movie, it has stuck in my mind.  This means that it is something of note, and I hope wider audiences get the chance to decide for themselves.  Beyond The Grave is ultimately a little unsatisfying, and not everything in it works, but it shows its creator to be full of ideas and the kind of filmmaker who could really do some strong work in the future given the chance.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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