Jun 30, 2018

Beyond the Grave / Porto dos Mortos (Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro, 2010)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
Blending multiple, seemingly incongruous genres is a risky task, but the Brazilian director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro boldly accepts the challenge and delivers a bizarre, weirdly poetic smorgasbord of (now it's time to take a deep breath) arthouse, western, mystery, horror, melodrama, black comedy and post-apocalyptic fantasy in his fiction feature debut that is actually a supernatural road movie!

Overly ambitious, yet quite refreshing and unique in spite of its many (more or less obvious) influences (from Sergio Leone to George Miller to Richard Stanley...), Beyond the Grave feels like a spiritual prequel to The Soul Detective - an intriguing short meta-film in which David Lynch himself makes an appearance. Both works share the same piece of prop - a cowboy hat which belongs to the embodiment of a mysterious evil force referred to as The Dark Rider who is chased by an unnamed loner, Officer, in a world gone awry.
When we first meet the burly, taciturn, hard-boiled (anti)hero (stoically portrayed by Rafael Tombini), he is sweeping away a trio of bandits in a Wild West style, until he is ambushed by an anime or Ryūhei Kitamura reference in the form of a samurai sword-wielding baddy. After taking care of that one as well, he hits the road in his vintage car, black as his suit (and soul?), the only thought in his mind to seek and destroy the aforementioned arch-nemesis.

The simple-turned-esoteric story which starts in medias res unfolds in a deliberate pace, with action bits operating as highlights, and involves a colorful bunch of rather archetypal characters whom Officer encounters on his quest for vengeance. There are a couple of teenage darlings, reserved Nina and gutsy Shooter, a gentle expectant mother, a jumpy soldier wannabe and a highly composed master of 'umbrella kendo', all trying to survive amongst the zombified 'Returners' who are so slow they pose no threat (until they corner you in a bathroom).
The Dark Rider who possesses a parasitic ability to nestle inside the closest body is accompanied by an eccentric duo - a guy named Angel who produces ear-bleeding music with his harmonica and a long-haired Indian armed with a bow and arrow (well, duh!). A twisted world they inhabit is 'transformed by magic and madness', as the official synopsis informs us, so it's no wonder that logic holds little to no power over it. To immerse yourself in it, you will need some patience and a hefty dose of suspension of disbelief or otherwise, you will constantly wonder how they (the living souls) manage to keep their clothes so clean.

Abiding by the rule of cool and simultaneously keeping in touch with his artistic sensibility, Pinheiro does not always hit the right note (the same could be said for the actors as well), but he does get extra points for his sheer resourcefulness and love of all cinema, regardless of the labels. The most commendable aspect of his extravaganza is Melissandro Bittencourt's beautiful cinematography which rarely betrays the low budget, providing us with a long series of exquisitely composed shots.

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