July 10, 2012

BEYOND THE GRAVE (Movie Review)

REVIEW

Beyond the Grave (2010)

aka. Porto Dos Mortos

Director and Writer: Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro

RATING:
2.5 / 5 zedheads

 

From the moment the gun-slinging protagonist of Beyond the Grave entered into frame, gunning down cannibals and the undead on his grim, relentless search for a supernatural serial killer, I really wanted to like this Brazilian art house / horror film.  I really, really did.

Reach for the sky!
In what seems to be a direct attempt to make me geekgasm, Beyond the Grave combines a lot of what I love. Spaghetti westerns mingle with apocalyptic Italian zombie horror, such as Fulci's City of the Living Dead, while the whole package is wrapped in the pondering and deliberately obscure tone of an art house movie but based on concepts and character motifs taken from Stephen King's The Dark Tower book series (even to the point of lifting exact lines and phrases). In many ways, Beyond the Grave should be the perfect movie for me. And yet, despite it's cornucopia of cinematic and literary homages, Beyond the Grave is very much like the worst kind of zombie zombie: listlessly and ineffectually meandering around without anything to do.

Doing? Oh, nothing. Just hanging around.
Beyond the Grave, which is also known by its original title Porto Dos Mortos (Portal of the Dead), is set in an apocalyptic world in which the gates of hell have opened and the dead now walk the Earth. Outwardly, the world looks very much the same. Except for the zombies, the world is far from a hellish nightmare landscape. Nevertheless, the world appears empty of human life, and those that remain have a nasty habit of disappearing and ending up dead. An undeniable sense of decay and corruption is pervading the Earth. In the words of Roland the gunslinger, hero of Stephen King's Dark Tower series from which writer / director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro constantly cribs, "the world has moved on." Like King's The Gunslinger, in which Roland relentlessly tracks the Man in Black across the wastelands, Beyond the Grave introduces us to a man referred to only as The Officer (Rafael Tombini), a police detective who tracks a mysterious killer in a trenchcoat and gasmask known as The Dark Rider. Along the way, he picks up some reluctant young people (just like Roland picks up Jake), and then lots of people die.

Drive the apocalypse in style
Given that Beyond the Grave is an indie movie, I can overlook the fact that the apocalyptic world it presents is fairly small in scope. It helps, although, that the cinematographer makes great use of several isolated locations and beautiful natural settings. For an indie film, Beyond the Grave looks great, as these stills can prove. However, where the film really digs its own grave is in its pacing. The film is interminably slow. There is virtually no rising action. It spins its wheels on cryptic conversations and brief encounters with characters who we are not permitted to learn much about. The Officer rarely speaks throughout the movie, and as a result he is a hard character to have any empathy for. Other character relationships are vaguely presented, and although it's possible to guess at what's happening in an oblique way, the movie itself does itself a disservice by consistently undercutting any sense of mounting tension by dwelling on quiet moments or ambiguous scenes instead of developing the plot.

Porto dos Mortos has grave pacing issues
The undead in Beyond the Grave are little help. They are no threat at all. They wander through scenes and sometimes manage to bite someone, but they don't appear to be actively hunting the living. In fact, one scene ends with a group of characters encountering a zombie in a bathtub eating itself while another slumps next to it in a chair. The zombies don't even seem to register the presence of the living most of the time. Now, using zombies as an atmospheric element rather than plot device can be done well, but when the rest of your movie lacks horror, tension, or action, the zombies kind of need to step up their game and do something more than putter around the grass like Grandpa when someone leaves the door at the retirement home unlatched.

Despite its visual creativity and fine cinematic composition, Beyond the Grave is a chore to sit through. It's not especially scary, and the ambiguous plot elements, mysteries, and occult ideas are like fog: not so easy to grasp as they are to see. Even borrowing extensive material from Stephen King's The Dark Tower series -- my favorite book series of all time -- wasn't enough to keep me enthralled by this indie Brazilian experiment in art house apocalyptic horror/drama.

More than anything, it made me want to read Stephen King's Dark Tower series over again.