Sunday, April 29, 2012

[DVD] Beyond the Grave (Portos dos Mortos) (2010)

Look Out Behind You!

I'm always a fan of first films, because it's usually a chronicle of a filmmaker's struggles in getting it produced and completed, and a unique labour of love with mistakes made that a filmmaker can only learn from. One can only make a first film once, and it becomes the foundation on which a filmmaker can build upon, showcasing what he or she can already do, and paving the way for more to be done. Brazilian Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro wrote, directed and co-produced his first feature length narrative feature in Beyond the Grave, and as a genre film, showed plenty of promise in its ambition trying to weave gore, action and fantasy elements all rolled into one, although the usual trip ups were also expected from any first film.

Pinheiro has plenty going on in Beyond the Grave, that follows in a singular fashion a nameless police officer's quest in seeking out his enemy known as the Dark Rider in a post apocalyptic world infested with lumbering zombies. And to make the job a little bit tougher, the Dark Rider can assume the identity of another through possession, like in Fallen, where the spirit moves from body to body to ensure longevity, and to keep the hero guessing for the most parts. Even before the opening credits, we're treated to a sequence where the Officer, played by Rafael Tombini, goes up against three enemies that showcases his skillset, being equally adapt as we will soon find, with the gun, or the samurai sword, which he frequently uses given the scarcity of bullet rounds.

Rafael Tombini plays his Officer with aplomb, being the loner that he is in a world where one cannot trust anyone since loyalties are shifting, and relationships established are usually short lived given that anyone can fall prey to the zombies, or to other human alliances all out for that glimmer of survival. And we learn of this through the hard way given his bond with a teenage couple he picks up during his journey, plus another three whom they meet in an isolated school that seem untouched by the chaos outside, except for the occasional zombie that comes passing through. These relationships are primed for a fall, especially when they encounter the Dark Rider at different moments, and bring everything full circle in the usual, expected climatic battle between good and evil.

But the journey to get there seemed to be bogged down by the curious, and relentless need to expand upon the world set up for the film. Things sometimes enter the picture with little explanation or background, leaving the viewers much to own our devices to come up with probable rationale. We get to see a number of things from ritualistic killings to what would be a premise for a zombie film, but that in itself looked a little more like an experiment to dabble in heavy set makeup and special effects, lending little to the plot, other than to allow the characters to do battle. Fight scenes, while nicely choreographed and shot, could have been a little bit extended to allow for a better appreciation since the opening would have already piqued plenty of interest.

Stylistically, the art direction is top notch in painting a sparse landscape yet brimming with chaotic undertones, and Brazil, little seen in this part of the world, proved to be an eye-opener for the extremely beautiful landscapes that the cinematography captured especially in the wide shots. For the horror fan there are numerous references that you will spot throughout the film, and what I liked about it is the Western genre feel that the Officer adopts, where you can imagine very closely how the man with no name would have reacted if caught up in a world such as this one.

Still, it's a little bit different in narrative style with its amalgamation of its fantasy elements with that of horror, and for any film fan this is worth a pick up just to get in tune with genre cinema that's seldom seen. It is ambitious, but had the constraints of a first film to work around, where in some aspects you'd feel that punches have been pulled rather than to go for the jugular in matching its intent.

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