Boxer Clutch (Nick Damici) is out jogging this morning, but when he gets back to his home on Mulberry Street, New York City, the news has not reached them yet about some strange attacks in the city. The residents are more concerned with the fact that they are in danger of being evicted from their homes because the tenement buildings are in a state of disrepair, so hardly notice when people begin to disappear. Clutch is awaiting the return of his daughter Casey (Kim Blair), a soldier injured in the Iraqi conflict, but they both will be thrown into a fight for survival they could never have imagined...
For a film created on such a tiny budget, Mulberry Street was quite an achievement, with special effects, extensive location shooting and a willing cast. Unfortunately you are reminded of the lack of funds in almost every scene, and the script by star Damici and director Jim Mickle was so in the thrall of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead that making their monsters not zombies but rat-creatures did little to deflect the comparisons. Zombies were the real comeback horror characters of the early twenty-first century, and this film was just one of many who thought they'd be ideal for their efforts.
The trouble is, not every filmmaker with a lack of money is a Romero, and Mickle had decided to concentrate on the characters so as to make their well-nigh inevitable fate more of a tragedy. Which would have been fine, but the personalities are drawn too much from stock: the tough guy finding his sensitive side, the camp friend who secretly loves him, the single mother having trouble with her teenage son, and so on. The most potentially interesting one is the scarred Casey, but she barely gets a line to speak to build up her personality, as if solely defined by the military and what it has done to her.
But what of the zomb-sorry, rat-creatures? They are caused by an unexplained new strain of a virus carried by actual rats, which have started attacking the residents of New York without rhyme or reason. We get glimpses of panic on the news broadcasts, well, we see the odd ambulance on the news and those playing the reporters fill us in, and to the film's credit there is a sense of a bigger picture going on that we are not entirely being told about. Mostly this involves those not in the tenement running for their lives when extras with pointy teeth leap at them.
And those in the tenement have to go through the usual motions of barricading themselves in, and succumbing one by one to bites. This might have been tenser if the crisis had brought out fresh depths in their behaviour, but they're pretty much undernourished as far as the traits they already have go. Another problem is that to make the action seem more hectic, Mickle has opted for the time-honoured shaky-cam style of directing, with the result that with the gloom it is shot in it is very difficult to work out what is going on after a while. Couple that with an ending that conveys less a satisfying climax and more a jumble of plotlines pulling in different directions, and you have a work that you can admire for its makers' dedication in actually getting the film produced and distributed, but feel there could have been a bit more time spent at the script stage to offer something less stale. Music by Andreas Kapsalis.