Hand picked for last year’s After Dark Horrorfest, Mulberry Street – the epileptic feature film debut of Jim Mickle – features rats in Manhattan biting people and, by process of an unaccountable plot, turning the infected into ‘roided up rat-esque creatures. Set in and around the titular street, Damici and Mickle’s script features an apartment building and tenants right out of Batteries Not Included, only slightly grungier and a lot less entertaining. Before proceeding though, let it be noted that the use of the word ‘features’ in the preceding two sentences is not accidental. ‘About’ would have sufficed were Mulberry Street about something. It is not. It is as shallow as a contact lens and has no agenda but frustrating, amateur rage.
There would be no major deficiency here if Mr. Mickle had an identity of his own. Instead of trying something new, director Mickle apes 28 Days Later as hard and as often as he can. I’m all for an Indie director showing some love for the bigger boys, but not when it fails with such magnitude that it becomes nothing but annoying to stomach. Mulberry Street gropes 28 Days Later with such misplaced lust that when it first screened Danny Boyle must have woken up at 2 am with the unassailable feeling that someone had just goosed him.
The rat portion of the story is almost incidental. Any other element of infection could have been chosen and any other species to devolve into could have been selected. The post-bite creatures of Mulberry Street do not look like rats, nor do they behave like rats. Except for a scene in which a standing, closeted bureau behind a locked door erupts with an adult sapien-rat inside; that is totally rat-like, right? Just the other day I was complaining about all the damned rats that leap out of my closet and claw my face with the ferocity of a hyena. Oh, how I long for the lost days of yesteryear, when rats acted like rats and broke the sound barrier in retreat at any threat of being seen.
A noticeable disconnect exists between what the script believes is going on and what is actually going on. The script thinks itself an intimate peek into the humdrum lives of over-the-hill apartment folk who just so happen to be surviving a ridiculous outbreak. The film thinks itself a frantic, break-neck outbreak film that gives mercy to no one. Break-neck it is. The first 30 minutes are alright, but the remaining 60 look and sound like they were filmed by a crew playing Edward Forty-Hands on set. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Mulberry Street is that someone was able to operate a camera with a forty duct taped to their hand.
Sparing a few of the minor players, the acting is serviceable. Nick Damici in particular is the strongest, but even he drops out of character from time to time. The production and set design departments, however, deserve kudos. The early stages of outbreak are effective on the street level, giving the film a temporary appearance of lift above its budget. The apartment building seems appropriately lived in, injecting some reality into the situation.
Detailed sets and blocked-off streets aren’t enough to prevent a brain aneurysm, though, which is what watching Mulberry Street feels more and more like as it progresses. Coupled with a script that offers nothing new and has no hidden inspiration waiting in the wings, there is little motivation to see the film or anything Jim Mickle does in the future. I know After Dark doesn’t equate to a gold seal of approval – and I do applaud them for championing the Indies – but why Mulberry Street? There must have been better on offer. On second thought, After Dark was probably the only offer Mulberry Street got. Even that was a better offer than it deserved.