(A.k.a. PORTO DOS MORTOS)
"No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself".
If an apocalypse ever occurred and the world was left virtually lifeless save for flesh-eating zombies, surely the best job anyone could ever have is that of a radio DJ. Those fuckers always survive to warn any other survivors about the dangers out there … and to offer a simple exposition-culling explanation of the state of play to us viewers.
In this instance, the DJ in question is just a voice heard over car radios. He tells of how the world has become almost completely deserted save for "strangers" (zombies to you and I). No reason is given, the DJ instead preferring to regale us with tales of his own experiences of the violent end of humanity as he knew it.
Listening to these broadcasts is police officer Lockheart (Rafael Tombini), a hardened and almost silent individual who carries several dossiers in his car boot. Each one details a different serial killer, all of whom he’s hell-bent on bringing to justice … even if society has collapsed in the meantime.
Our first experience of Lockheart’s obsession is when he walks into a quiet bar and shoots all of its patrons dead, enabling him to focus on fighting – and slaying – a wanted samurai killer (Lindon Satoru Shimizu).
Afterwards, Lockheart resumes his cross-country journey through the wastelands of South America, in search of his next quarry. With life being unlikely to come across, he comes to a halt when he encounters a couple of young lovers attempting to loot an empty shop.
After threatening to shoot them, he feeds them and takes them along for the ride – intrigued by their plight once he learns they are out on a mission of vengeance against a serial killer who killed people they love. As fortune would have it, Lockheart has a dossier that may come in handy for them.
Furthermore, Lockheart later opens up to disclose the nature of his own obsession: the Dark Rider (Adriano Basegio), a killer who murdered everyone close to him.
For Lockheart, the answer to his problems seems straightforward enough: avenge their deaths by killing the Dark Rider. Oh, but if only the Dark Rider wasn’t gifted with supernatural powers and almost certainly in league with Satan.
So Lockheart trains the youngsters how to aim and fire a gun. Well, it’s a start …
Set rather ambiguously in "another time, another place", the film was actually shot in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre by producer-writer-director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro.
BEYOND THE GRAVE marks the filmmaker’s feature debut, having earned his stripes over the last decade making short films and documentaries. Here, he takes all his experience and throws it into an 88-minute melting pot. The result is a stylish, busy brew of keen visuals and well-executed atmospherics.
From the get-go, it’s apparent that Pinheiro’s film is going to be a triumph of snazzy editing, imaginative camerawork and striking compositions. There’s also little doubt, from the first few minutes onwards, that there will be no skimping on the gore.
But, about ten minutes into proceedings, and as impressed as I was with the film on an aesthetic level, one word started to worry me: substance. As in: where was it?
Well, I looked into the eyes of the performers. I looked between the lines of the rather sparse script. I even looked under my settee at one point. But, nope, there was nary a hint of substance to be found.
Still, this is all rather briskly paced and punctuated by regular bouts of bloody action. And when your film is shot this well, along with being bolstered by the odd energetic rock song on the soundtrack (music has persisted, we’re told, even if life hasn’t), perhaps there are enough people willing to overlook the niceties of something like an emotional core or dramatic tension?
BEYOND THE GRAVE is, overall, enjoyable on a superficial level because it looks and sounds great. It’s a convincingly stylish hybrid of Mad Max, road trips, the Spaghetti Western genre, zombie shoot-‘em-up video games and pretentiousness (from the introductory text that also opened this review – a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, no less – to the philosophical one-liners of the lead character and the DJ ["to be alone is to risk sanity, to be with someone is to risk life"]). The grisly bits are persuasive and the pace, as mentioned, rarely lets up.
The FX aren’t bad – pretty good, actually. Same with the efforts of the cast. Humour comes sparingly in the all-too-thin script, but at least it’s evident on occasion.
But it’s throwaway stuff beyond any of that. Which isn’t necessarily a criticism – not a huge one, anyway – just something I felt worth bringing prominent attention to …
The film was presented for review on an uncut screener disc, an early review variant which offered the main feature and nothing else – no menus, extras etc. As such, I dare say this preview disc won’t be indicative of the eventual retail discs.
Having said that, aside from an occasional water-mark ("Property of Lockheart films"), the screener did proffer a satisfying playback of the film.
For a start, the anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer preserved the film’s original aspect ratio and looked good. Boasting solid definition, fair detail and nice warm colours, the transfer looked pleasingly natural to these eyes.
Likewise, the 2.0 and 5.1 audio options – a mix of Portugese, Japanese and Guarani languages – came as solid propositions throughout. Optional English subtitles were at hand, but only for the Portuguese dialogue (the lion’s share of the film’s soundtrack, admittedly).
Worth looking out for when it gets an inevitable UK DVD release, BEYOND THE GRAVE is a huge statement of intent from a filmmaker ready and primed to make the leap to producing something magnificent. This isn’t it, but it is of interest for that reason.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro|