Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Porto Dos Mortos (Beyond the Grave) (2010)

Title: Beyond the Grave (Porto Dos Mortos) (2010)

Director: Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro

Cast: Rafael Tombini, Alvaro Rosacosta, Amanda Grimaldi, Ricardo Seffner


Porto Dos Mortos is a post apocalyptic zombie film from Brazil. Its title literally translates to ‘Portal of the Dead’; which is really an appropriate title because same as in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981) and City of the Living Dead (1980), this is a film in which the seven gates of hell have been opened and as a result, the living dead have taken over the world! The film starts right smack in the heart of the apocalypse, when things have already gone to hell. Most of humanity has disappeared with only a few colonies remaining here and there. Zombies are everywhere, you can't drive two seconds without seeing one. There's only one radio station in the air and the lonely DJ calls himself  'The Last Man on Earth'. He says the world might have gone to hell, but the music has survived. A Rock and Roll song begins as we see the yellow lines on the open road flashing past us, then, the films title: Porto Dos Mortos.   

The main character is a loner simply referred to as ‘Policial’ which I imagine translates to ‘The Police Man’ or ‘Officer’. He’s a cop who apparently can’t stop being a cop even though the world has ended. He’s on a mission to capture ‘The Dark Rider’ an evil spirit/entity that goes around possessing people and killing humans. So in a way, ‘Policial’ is kind of like a paranormal investigator of sorts, which is really the vibe I got from the character. He seems to be the kind of person who knows his way around the supernatural. In this sense, this character reminded me of Francesco Dellamorte from Michelle Soavi’s Cemetery Man (1994), you know, a quiet, almost anti-social main character with an affinity for the occult. But I have to admit he also has a little bit of Mad Max Rockatansky in him. Same as Max, he used to be a police man; he drives around a post apocalyptic wasteland in a black car…with police lights on it! Yeah, Mad Max in deed. I ended up liking this main character the most. Rafael Tombini does a good job of portraying the strong silent type. This character has an attitude that goes in perfect alignment with the films opening quote: “No price is too high, to pay for the privilege of owning yourself” A quote from Friedrich Nietzsche is always a cool way to open your movie.

Porto Dos Mortos is a zombie film with an artistic sensibility. This isn’t a zombie film that cares about the gore or the shock, or the special effects. It’s got all of these things in it, but they are not the driving force behind the film. This is a low budget, independent horror film and that can be a plus under the right directors hands because it pushes creativity in other directions. The emphasis isn’t on the action or the make up effects but in the look of the film and the way the shots are set up, which I might add were creative. The film takes advantage of great looking Brazilian locations which add a flare of beauty to the film. Characters drive around long open roads with mountains and the ocean in the background. Visually, there’s a beauty to this zombie film. This is part of what makes Porto Dos Mortos special, the fact that it was shot entirely in Brazil. The structures, buildings and landscapes are totally different to what you might find in an American film, which is one of the pleasures of seeing films from around the world.

Unfortunately, even though the film is aesthetically beautiful, it falters with its pacing. The premise might be cool, the characters might be likable and interesting but if nothing much happens in the way of excitement then you risk boring your audience into a stupor, which I’m sure is the main complaint with this movie. And I have to say that I agree, it is a deliberately slower paced film. Now a slower paced horror film I don’t mind, as long as you compensate with other things like mood and atmosphere, interesting camera moves or a strong supernatural vibe. A sense of dread and a bit of suspense helps too. Unfortunately, Porto Dos Mortos chooses to tell its tale in a pace that virtually brings the entire movie to a crawl. A pity too because its premise is interesting enough: zombies have taken over the world, we might be the last humans, and the portals of hell are open! All these elements sound like the perfect ingredients for an entertaining horror film, unfortunately Porto Dos Mortos does not present these ideas in an exciting fashion, which is really the films main fault. I’m sure that director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro was aiming for a film that was slower and more serious in pace, but come on, you have to give us something in the ways of excitement in the midst of your artfulness. As it is, characters talk a lot on this movie. I did enjoy their conversations, especially one scene where one of the kids that befriends Policial starts telling his story as Policial drives. Policial aint much of a talker, so the kids talks for him. It was cool, the kid gets kind of poetic about the way the world is, I liked that bit of dialog a lot. 

Porto Dos Mortos is a film that never really goes all the way with its concepts. For example, we have an evil spirit that travels from body to body, which might have been a good opportunity for augmenting your films supernatural elements, yet we never see a hint of people being possessed, save for their red eyes. The film is about a Portal to Hell being opened, yet not a portal is in sight. It would have been interesting to see one of these portals, especially when it's your film main premise; but no. My point is, if this is a film dealing with supernatural elements, then it would have been a good idea to make these supernatural element felt stronger. As it is, even evil spirits are exorcised by simply talking. I imagine that had they had more of a budget, then we would have seen something in the way of visual effects, but as it is, the supernatural elements are very subtle on this film. It felt to me that Porto Dos Mortos was a film held back by its budgetary limitations. Still, I commend director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro’s for presenting supernatural elements on a tight budget, the result is a more subdued portrayal of the supernatural. At least we didn’t get a bunch of cheap, cheesy visual effects! 

Horror fans and zombie freaks might end up being disappointed with Porto Dos Mortos because not only is the film painfully slow paced, it also takes the award for portraying the least threatening zombies in all of zombiedom! I aint kidding either, these zombies do next to nothing in the ways of threatening the good guys! Well, there’s this one zombie cowboy that aims a gun at the good guys and shoots at them, but aside from that one, all other zombies are practically harmless. One scene has a character playfully throwing rocks at a zombie; another scene has a character torturing a zombie who never reacts. The Officer sees a little kid zombie and walks right past it, the zombie kid does nothing to him, so why should he care about wasting bullets on it?  I mean, sure these are dead creatures, but usually zombies have a penchant for human flesh, or at the very least human brains. The zombies on this film don’t seem to care for neither, in fact, the zombies play a secondary role here. You wouldn’t even know this was a zombie film, if the occasional zombie didn’t pop up every now and again to remind you. Still, I'd recommend this film to those who enjoy a slower paced artsy horror film, a la Richard Stanley's Dust Devil (1992) or Michelle Soavi's Cemetery Man (1994), but even when compared to these two films Porto Dos Mortos is excrutiatingly slow.   

Behind the Scenes

This was Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro’s first full length film, and even though it has some faults in the way of pacing, and storytelling, the film shows a lot of promise. It has style and an artful eye for beauty. It just seemed to me like they didn’t have enough money to bring all of their ideas into fruition. But still, not having money is no excuse for making a boring movie. Porto Dos Mortos desperately needed a bit more excitement, emotion and suspense. As it is, the film is so slow paced that the characters never feel like they are in peril, even when they are. Oliveira was obviously going for a quieter kind of film, but it felt like they needed to augment the intensity of some of the situations, we need to feel what these characters are feeling. Some of the other elements in the film also needed intensification, like for example, if this is a supernatural film, then really make it supernatural! Make us feel that evil in the air, that spooky otherworldliness of the supernatural. If this is a zombie film, then make these zombies dangerous! Sadly, even the zombies in Porto Dos Mortos don’t care to display intensity towards their primal need: human flesh. As it is, the premise of this film seems to dwindle and never really take off.

Another thing that bothered me about the film is how it doesnt do a good job of explaining things, at times I felt lost. I don’t particularly love films in which they explain everything away, as if spelling things out for you, but I also don’t like feeling lost. This is the kind of film in which you risk getting lost if you don’t pay lots of attention to it. I felt this way when I watched Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil (1974), on that film sometimes I felt like Bava was deliberately trying to make things challenging for the viewer. My point being that you don’t have to spell things out for your audience, but you cant confuse them to the point of loosing them either; you have to reach a happy medium. As it is, some of the major plot points in Porto Dos Mortos are lost because characters only briefly mention them, without going into details. For example, characters talk about the portals to hell very matter of factly, without really letting us know what these portals are all about. Where are these portals and why isn't somebody trying to close them? In my opinion, some major plot points needed to be emphasized a bit more. Still, in spite of the films faults, I’d say that Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro shows promise with his first film. He did a respectaable job with Porto Dos Mortos, yet there is obviously some room for growth. Oliveira and crew got away with making a decently looking film with very little money, which is something that is always commendable in my book. This is a director that can no doubt make bigger films if given the chance to grow as a filmmaker and play with the medium; looking forward to future films.

Rating: 3 out of 5 


Leopoldo Tauffenbach said...

Hello, Film Connoisseur!
First of all, congrats for the blog.
Great review, but there's a thing that must be corrected. I'm brazilian and the title actually refers to the name of the city where the action is set: Porto Alegre. Thus, "Porto dos Mortos" can be translated to "Porto of the Dead". It's almost like if we had a zombie set in Bay City (MI) called "Bay of the Dead". That's preety much the spirit of the original title. Glad to see that people overseas are able to see our horror movies.
Best wishes!
Leopoldo Tauffenbach

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for pointing that out Leopoldo, I guess that kind of think can get lost in translation!

I enjoyed this movie, yeah it was slow at times, but it was also beautiful to look at. I've seen a couple more Brazilian Horror films: At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964) and This Night I'll POssess Your Corpse (1967), both very interesting old school horror films, very creative even though they obviously had very small budgets. Looking forward to seeing Encarnacao do Demonio (2008)!

Thanks for commenting!


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