The threat of a virus born zombie apocalypse comes back to haunt viewers yet again with “Mutants” from French writer director David Morlet, marking his first full length feature. As with so many other recent undead operas, the film takes its influence quite obviously from Danny Boyle’s crossover hit “28 Days Later”, though Morlet does manage to add somewhat of a twist by throwing in some Cronenberg style body horror amongst all the sprinting, howling ghouls. This, combined with the film’s Gallic flavour and magnificent scenery do help it to stand out somewhat from the increasingly overcrowded playing field, with Morlet proving himself a skilled practitioner of the form. Following its domestic run and some decent word of mouth, the film now arrives on region 2 DVD via Momentum Pictures.
After a series of captions solemnly inform the viewer that the world is basically screwed following the release of a deadly mutating virus, the film certainly gets off to a shocking start, thrusting the viewer right into the action as an ambulance careers along a snowy mountain road, two scientists and an infected patient aboard. The two are Marco (Francis Renaud, recently in Julien Leclercq’s sci-fi thriller “Chrysalis”) and his pregnant lover Sonia (Hélène de Fougerolles, also in the French comedy horror “Vampire Party”), who are searching for the Noah military base where a cure for the plague is apparently being researched. Unfortunately, poor Marco is attacked and contaminated, and so they take refuge in a giant abandoned facility where Sonia tries to fend off the slimy skinned fiends and a group of vicious survivalists, while coming to terms with the fact that she will in all likelihood end up having to put a bullet in her beloved’s brain.
Although the plot of “Mutants” is pretty generic stuff, clearly drawing not only from “28 Days Later”, but perhaps even more prominently from Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead”, Morlet does manage to give the film a slightly different feel by dedicating a large amount of the running time to Marco’s increasingly grotesque transformation. In doing this, following the film’s initial frantic flurry, there is very little in the way of mutant action until the last half hour. This approach actually works very well, as by keeping the ghouls off screen for much of the film, he quite neatly allows tension to build both as to when they will inevitably launch their assault, and as to exactly what the wretched Marco will end up looking like – which is probably just as well, as the mutants when finally seen are nothing special, being actors with shaved heads, a couple of extra nostrils, and the expected bad complexions. Certainly, the first forty five minutes or so do make for ominously atmospheric viewing, thanks mainly to the quiet, bleak beauty of the blizzard swept mountains and forests. Morlet makes full use of the amazing natural scenery, with some excellent cinematography from Nicolas Massart, and in many ways this proves to be the film’s strongest asset.
Once the action does kick off, the film successfully shifts gears and into hi-octane horror thrills. The blood really does start to fly in fine, brutal fashion, and as the mutants start racing through the forest and into the building, the viewer suddenly becomes grateful for the supporting cast of useless, zombie fodder stereotypes. The special effects and make up are of a decent quality, and Morlet shows himself to be as adept at handling shaky camera attack scenes as he does at generating suspense. Whilst most of the splatter is again quite derivative and recognisable from other similarly themed genre standards, the gore groceries are delivered with a welcome enthusiasm that helps to lift the film well above the average. Sadly, despite showing an impressive ruthlessness early on in dispatching cast members, Morlet isn’t quite able to hold his nerve through to the end, and the film concludes in disappointingly conventional fashion.
Nevertheless, “Mutants” is certainly one of the better examples of the post “28 Days Later” modern virus zombie films, and should be enjoyed by all fans of the form. Morlet is undoubtedly a talented director, and the film bodes well for his future work in the genre.
David Morlet (director) / Louis-Paul Desanges, David Morlet (screenplay)
CAST: Hélène de Fougerolles … Sonia
Francis Renaud … Marco
Dida Diafat … Virgile (as Dida)
Marie-Sohna Conde … Perez
Nicolas Briançon … Franck
Luz Mandon … Dany
Driss Ramdi … Abel