Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mutants (2009)

(Not to be confused with Mutants, Mutants or Mutant)

It's the viral fast animalistic zombie apocalypse. Yes, again. Somewhere in the French Alps, emergency doctor Sonia (Helene de Fougerolles), her husband Marco (Francis Renaud) and the somewhat paranoid soldier Perez (Marie-Sohna Conde) are trying to reach the near-mythical military base Noah that is supposedly situated somewhere up there.

The trio is in dire need of supplies, especially fuel for the ambulance they're driving, but stopping at a deserted gas station turns out to be A Very Bad Idea, leading to Perez' death by people less cruel than herself and Marco's infection with the slow-working virus.

Sonia is not willing to give up on Marco, so she takes him with her until she comes to a (much emptier than one would expect) deserted hospital. She decides to hole up there and try to do what she can for Marco while also searching for a way to contact the military base. Sonia is pretty sure the military would go out of their way to help her if she could only inform them of the fact that she is immune against the virus.

The physician hopes the same for Marco, but he slowly starts to change. A transfusion of her blood doesn't have the effect Sonia had hoped for either. Finally, after some time of unpleasant physiological and psychological changes in her husband, she promises to kill him by lethal injection. She changes her mind, though, and only sedates Marco to lock him up in the building's cellar, about five minutes before a very different quartet of survivors arrives.

After some of the usual zombie-apocalyptic happenings, Sonia manages to contact the military base. Of course, the situation in the hospital reaches a climax just twenty minutes before the military is bounf to arrive when the survivors are getting nasty, the not-zombies attack and Marco gets out of his cell.

The last event turns out to be a bit more helpful for our heroine than you'd usually expect, though. Her husband still seems to have some of his former feelings for her.

The zombie apocalypse has now reached France again, and I for one am quite glad it has. While Mutants won't win anyone's heart with the power of originality, it hits the beats of a modern zombie film in the 28 Days Later mold very well while adding a few things all its own.

Mutants has some logical flaws that should be obvious from my synopsis, but I didn't mind them much while watching the movie. That's the sign of a movie paced well enough to not leave the viewer time to analyze it, and really, that's all the logical coherence I need in my zombie apocalypses.

Since everyone regularly exposing herself to my natterings will know how a modern zombie works I see no need to say anymore about the standard stuff in the movie. Instead, let's look at the handful of things Mutants does differently or very well.

I was impressed by director David Morlet's decision to just throw us into a zombie apocalypse that is already ongoing without doing any exposition at all. "It's a zombie apocalypse, these are people, you'll understand the rest", the film seems to say, trusting that the viewer is savvy enough to know the zombie rules, as well as able to understand what's different in this apocalypse when we see it without explaining it outright. This method fits my utter hatred for exposition nicely, but people with less aggressive feelings about the technique should be alright with it too, I think.

After the fast set-up, the most interesting part of the film begins. In its middle, when Sonia and Marco have to cope with Marco's slow mental and bodily decay, the film strains towards an emotional power the zombie films of the last few years often seem to have gone out of their way to avoid. De Fougerolles' and Renaud's performances carry that phase of the movie much more than the writing (which is alright, but not more) or the special effects (which are perfectly servicable) do, with both actors playing it subtly enough to make the often seen cliché of "loved one turns into a zombie" painfully human again.

The slowness of Marco's transformation also adds a larger element of body horror to these scenes than usual in zombie films, at times echoeing Cronenberg's version of The Fly, although never reaching that film's level or grim sense of humor.

Logically, I had my problems with the emptiness of Mutants' locations. There should either be more infected or more dead bodies around, in the hospital in particular, but Morlet uses this emptiness and the emptiness of the snowy landscape to evoke a feeling of cold desolation that is too resonant to give up for mere logic.

Sonia's experiences with the other survivor, the final fight for escape and so an are modern zombie movie standard, done well enough, but they also stray from the film's emotional core that lies in the relationship between Sonia and Marco to show us less interesting things we have already seen before in other movies.

With a bit more originality in the denouement I'd probably call Mutants a small classic of its sub-genre. As it stands, it is a neat film that promises much for future films by Morlet.


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