Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cinemasochism: BLACK MANGUE (2008)

Also known as MUD ZOMBIES, this is probably the first, and so far only, Brazilian river zombie movie in the history of cinema. Impressive sounding, right? Made on an extra low budget, using what appears to be home video equipment, and shot on location in picturesque Mangue on the mudbanks, this really could have been a contender.

The river-dwelling inhabitants of Mangue are having a hard time finding the usual fish and crab to sell to the sleazy middleman who collects all the catches and sells them to restaurants in the city. Even worse some folks are starting to take sick with a mysterious illness and there is some talk of a haunted mangrove.

Louis (Walderrama Dos Santos) is a skinny, mopey guy who pines after the local beauty Rachel (Kika de Oliveira) who doesn't seem to realize he exists. After some fishermen discover dead bodies are coming to life and attacking, the world is turned upside down (or rather turns into a STAR TREK set with massive shaky-cam action) and Louis and Rachel find themselves alone against the armies... uhhh, couples... of the undead. So now what? Slog through the mud to find more dead people, that's what! Ok, so technically the premise is that they are going to slog through the mud to find their relatives to see if they are ok. They aren't.

Along the way, we get what would normally be a subplot, but here takes up so much of the film's running time, that it is pretty much the main plot. Rachel is accidentally bitten by a zombie and slips into a catatonic state. In spite of the fact that most of the locals infected with zombitis fall on the ground only to pop back up seconds later, Rachel must not have been bitten that hard because she has plenty of time for Louis to come up with a plan. If I'm honest, planning doesn't seem to be Louis' strong point. Neither is talking, walking or shooting zombies. Louis must really hate the audience as much as he loves Rachel because he decides that the best thing to do is to find Benedita, the local old woman who may be some sort of witch-kinda-personage, but appears to be a guy in drag under a bunch of latex.

After finding Benedita (André Lobo, a guy in drag under a bunch of latex), she talks so slowly and at such length that sometimes you will forget what the point of the dialogue is. Sometimes you just won't know regardless of the speed of delivery. Her sage wisdom is: "we are in a place that is already dead, it is not possible to remain alive here" (oh of course!) but, she continues, the gall bladder of the local baiacu fish might save her! Let me guess. More mud-slogging? Damn skippy! Of course it takes about 10 long minutes for this information to be delivered and then Louis must go wandering around the river looking for the fish while avoiding zombies. This is every bit as fun as it sounds. Once the fish is grabbed and zombies are avoided, it's another 10 minutes with Benedita slooooooowly rambling on about nothing that is intelligible. I know 10 minutes may not seem like a long time in the greater scheme of things, but it's like being in line at the post office and having woman at the front seriously discussing which kind of stamps she might like to buy with the clerk and then going off on a tangent claiming that Obama has hidden a terrorist message in the one with the impressionist Christmas tree. Time expands exponentially by the measure of the pointless stupidity you are subjected to.

Finally, Louis and Rachel leave Benedita and head to the hills thinking they will escape. Thank f'n christ! We can finally get on with things and maybe get some action. But no! We cut back to Benedita who is now sitting alone and rambling very slowly to herself for another 10 freakin' minutes! Not only does no old person sound like that, but I can think of no other reason than shameless padding for having so much of Benedita rambling. Matter of fact the movie runs a full 104 minutes with almost no budget, some cartoonish gore effects that would have probably looked cool if they had been shot with a high-def, non-shaky cam set-up. Unfortunately due to the lighting and the poor-quality SOV production, as well as the crap camera-work, it's really difficult to see any details whatsoever rendering this as much fun as having your sibling flick the back of your ear during a family road-trip through Nebraska.

This CG version of the old "see through head" chestnut would be cool if it wasn't CG.

Writer-director Rodrigo Aragão desperately wants to make a Brazilian BRAINDEAD (1992) and lifts a few things from Jackson's film, and plenty from EVIL DEAD, to try to achieve that goal. One of the running gags is that every time Louis and Rachel try to get a little romantic, zombies bust up their love-in. It's a gag that is barely amusing the first time and wears thin fast. In addition there is a serious pacing issue. Aside from Benedita's maddeningly long, pointless rambling, there are scenes such as one where Louis and Rachel are trapped in a cabin as a zombie swarm surrounds the cabin and attempts to break in. Apparently these zombies are a bit sluggish due to their meat-only diet, as it takes them so long to slowly break into the balsa wood cabin that Louis and Rachel have plenty of time to sit down, relax and have a few discussions. So ludicrous is this that I expected them to put the kettle on at any moment. In the realm of the food biz there's a phrase that denotes a necessity of quick action, it's called a "sense of urgency". Rodrigo Aragão would never cut it in a restaurant and I'm hard pressed to believe these two slow pokes would ever make it through the first six minutes of a zombie apocalypse. There is an extreme amount of dead wood in this movie and it could have easily been edited down to a much more tolerable 75 minutes. As if all that wasn't bad enough we have an acting level that is on par with a Tempe Video release and what paltry amount of production cash they had, they wasted on stupid things like CGI steam coming out of stove pots! I was really hoping this would be a neglected masterpiece, but it just isn't. Interminable scenes of terribly acted dialogue that go on long past the point of madness, obscured effects due to shoddy equipment and inept camera-work and a leaden attempt at comedy kill this sucker like a headshot in a shopping mall.

Hmmm... something looks familiar here...

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