Beyond the Grave aka Porto dos Mortos (2010)
Writer/Director: Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro
This is the first really low budget work of this year's marathon and it's a good one. Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro is a Brazilian writer/director who has made quite a few experimental short films along with a few interview series that have focused on artists like Peter Greenaway, Michel Houellebecq, Wim Wenders and David Lynch.
Clearly he's been listening to what these artists have been saying.
Beyond the Grave isn't a great film. But for a first time feature-length film, this is exactly the sort of thing that should springboard him to a very interesting and inventive career. If that's even what he wants.
The story is simple enough. In a post-apocalyptic world, a police officer hunts down a demonic serial killer (of sorts) who leaps from body to body each time the host is killed. As has been a focus so far (accidentally) this year, the zombies are not the actual threat in this film. They linger around the background, serving as texture in the landscape of magic and violence in which the story takes place.
Although, to be fair, there's plenty of resurrection in this film even with the zombies in the background. Or the Returners, as they're called here.
There's a reason that this film and this director won the Most Cool award at the 2012 PollyGrind Film Festival -- a festival celebrating, as they put it, Arthouse meets Grindhouse film. It's not going to be for everybody. The effects are cheap and kind of bad. There are long stretches where not a lot happens. The actual plot is kind of vague, and the world, while clearly thought-out, isn't really clear to the viewer.
But you know what? None of that matters.
This is a weird bricolage of westerns, Road Warrior, samurai film, Romero, and Jodorowsky that somehow pulls it all together into a satisfying and intellectually intriguing whole. I can't wait to see something else by this guy. If I can, I'm going to track down some of his short film work and see what else the man is up to.
Oh! I guess I should mention the actual people in the film! Most of the performances are pretty standard for a work with this sort of budget. Actually that's not true. I don't know if it's because I'm reading subtitles or not, but pretty much everyone in the film seems to really hitting their marks on this one. It should be no surprise that the lead, Rafael Tombini, does an excellent job as the haunted ex-cop locked in an eternal battle with The Dark Rider. He has a very strong presence on-screen that goes beyond just reminding me of Rufus Sewell most of the time.
All in all, this was a nice surprise. The reviews weren't kind and I didn't go into tonight's film expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. That's always a surprise and one of the recurring pleasures of these annual marathons. Every year there are films that do things I just wasn't expecting and end up being little magical nuggets of enjoyment. Beyond the Grave is the first of those this year.