Saturday, January 5, 2013

Somewhere Beyond the Grave, Dull Stuff Happens

Zombies! Apocalypse! Samurai swords! Magical ear-bleeding harmonicas!

Damn you raised expectations.

Quick Plot: In ‘another time, another place’ (presumably in the future), a dark clad man (known only as The Officer) wanders the post-apocalyptic landscape in search of The Dark Rider, a mysterious, maybe supernatural killer terrorizing what’s left of humanity. The radio bids whoever is still out there to have a nice day, with little optimism that anyone is listening to say thank you. Also in the mix is a trio of bizarro harmonica playing murderers and a small population of the walking dead.

I guess they eat human flesh? It’s never explained, which is actually quite neat. For the first half hour or so of its running time, Beyond the Grave offered something truly refreshing: a different kind of apocalypse. Filmed in Brazil by newcomer Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro, it mixes standard zombies with a sort of free-range magic element set against a rather beautiful (and rarely seen on film) landscape. 

Boy did I want to like this movie.

Much like the Civil War zombie opus Exit Humanity, Beyond the Grave is an ambitious piece of work that combines recognizable horror tropes with a different kind of storytelling. The Officer is a stoic hero (I guess) who gradually amasses fellow survivors, all equally defensive, quiet, and hard to care about.

At a certain point, I realized Beyond the Grave was a story of a man of no words entering dark buildings to investigate weird occult signs while he tells a young teenage couple to wait in a car until something comes up, at which point one of of them runs into said dark building to retrieve said man of no words and they move on.

This happens twice.

Thankfully, we get a minor reprieve when we meet a few more dynamic characters holing up in an old school building. Like everyone else in this movie, we never have any idea how they are related to one another, but at least the man in charge smiles.

In this movie, that’s a feat.

I respect Beyond the Grave quite a bit. It goes for something new and doesn’t back away from doing so without mercy. Unfortunately, it also finds a way to bleed every minute in such a way that makes the experience feel endless. At about the halfway mark, something huge happens that seems to redirect the entire story. It’s fairly awesome in theory, except that a) the movie doesn’t fully follow through with it in any way that seems to make sense and b) there’s still half of a dull movie left to struggle through.

I did not enjoy Beyond the Grave, but I’m hesitant to not recommend it. Much like Exit Humanity, it earns high marks for being different...and low ones being kind of a drag.

High Points
Melissandro Bittencourt’s gorgeous cinematography goes a long way in aiding the unearthly tone of the film’s untraditional apocalypse

Low Notes
While some of the actual zombie designs are interesting enough, close-ups on my 52” screen TV revealed some distractingly wonky detailing 

Lessons Learned
You don’t need bullets to learn how to shoot

Shocking bit of education, I know, but please: don’t put your bare foot on the chest of a man who has incredibly easy access to a samurai sword

When wielding said samurai sword, be wary of walls

Beyond the Grave is worth a viewing, if only to see some genre film from a less cinematically active region. It has a few neat tricks up its sleeve for zombie fans or those with an appetite for unusual horror. But man oh man, it doesn’t make it easy on the viewer. I found Beyond the Grave a sluggish experience, yet I’m still putting director Pinheiro on my radar. He has an eye. Now let’s hope he finds a way to make it work with the rest of his filmmaking senses.


  1. Great review! Though I hesitant to tell you (from your description) that this movie still sounds (in theory) sort of awesome. I'm digging through my memories of examples when I had a similar outcome. Remember Brotherhood of the Wolf? The trailer looked so polished, violent, and thrilling...and the movie, well it got about %65 there.

    Anyway, I might add this to my instant list and see how long it sits there until I get to it.

  2. Oh I know Dusty: apocalypse + zombies + harmonica = you can't tell me no. Maybe you'll even enjoy it! Maybe...

    Brotherhood of the Wolf will always have a nice association for me because I watched it on a snow day. I remember nothing about it, save for the presence of Vincent Cassell. Hence, Vincent Cassell + day off of work = you can't tell me it wasn't great.

  3. Watched this about a month ago and I'm in complete agreement with you Emily in that it's nice to see someone trying to do something different with the genre, but damn, he really needed to pick up the pace. I did like the main character and his muscle car and it was a well photographed film, but a lot of patience is required to sit through it. Oh, and Brotherhood of the Wolf is great, not because of Cassell, but Emilie Duquenne (his character's sister).

  4. Okay, I plead ignorance. I saw Brotherhood long before I knew who Cassel was. On top of that, I paid 10.50 for the evening show when I was still a college student. (This was " all the way back" in 2000-2001 or so). So I just remember kung fu, rain, and feeling gipped.

  5. Glad I'm not alone Shiftless! I REALLY wanted to like this one more than I did.

    Man, Dusty had high standards back in the aughts. Kung fu + rain is usually enough for me in any decade!