Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mangue Negro (2008)

aka Mud Zombies

The people of a small, impoverished 19th century community (or so I guess going by the weapons people are using) in the Brazilian rainforest has a hard time staying alive. For decades, they have survived on the fish, crabs and oysters the mangroves provided them with, but in the last years there have only been slim pickings.

The bad times are getting worse when Batista (Reginaldo Secundo) stumbles upon a putrefying corpse instead of the crabs he is hunting. The icky thing might look dead, but it moves and bites in a rather sprightly manner. Batista escapes from the attack, but not before he is bitten and scratched by the zombie. We all know where that leads.

Unsurprisingly, the handful of people in the area has to fight a full-grown zombie outbreak. The emotionally stunted Luis (Walderrama Dos Santos) turns out to be the hero of the hour when it becomes necessary to protect the annoyingly useless village beauty Raquel (Kika de Oliveira) from the hungry undead. That's the power of secret infatuation for you!

As far as shot on digital low budget zombie films go, Brazilian Rodrigo Aragao's Mangue Negro is downright classy.

That doesn't mean that the film hasn't some glaring flaws, it just means that it has enough virtues to make at least somewhat up for them.

Most problematic is the director's puzzling decision to cast every woman except Raquel with a man in drag under really atrocious age make-up. It's not too hurtful in the case of Raquel's mother who isn't on screen much and does speak even less, but the local witch and exposition machine Dona Benedita as played by Andre Lobo is just plain annoying. Lobo's inability to understand that his old woman's voice is a terrible abomination is perplexing, Aragao's decision to not just let a man serve the same function in the plot when he hasn't an actress at hand even more so, but hey, what do I know, I just watch this stuff.

Still, even Lobo's best efforts can't ruin the film completely, as can't the less than convincing day for night scenes or the fact that the film's second half just drags badly. There's just too much obvious enthusiasm thrown on screen for me  to be too hard on Mangue Negro.

The first half hour or so is even quite wonderful in the way it uses extreme close-ups and a mood of decay to build up to the zombie action. And the zombies themselves aren't too shabby, either. Well, most of them, that is. As we all know, not every zombie has been created equal and so the zombies here go from thin make-up zombies to silly but cool animatronic creations everyone would be proud of.

Also of note are Aragao's additions to the zombie myth. There is a zombie fish and possibly zombie oysters to gawk at and even (gasp!) the truth about the cure for zombiefication. It's globe-fish gall!

And elderly drag queens and badly dragging last half hour or not, Aragao shows himself to be a creative and promising director, using his obviously limited funds well for most of the time.

Which is really more than you can expect.


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