Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…
The French may have a lot to prove in the real world when it comes to manners, courage, and the Tour de France, but in the world of cinema they have shown themselves to be masters of the art form. The past few years have seen French film-makers moving into the horror genre with a fierce determination and originality, and few would argue with their success after seeing modern classics like Martyrs, High Tension, and Inside. The films are brutally violent but made with skill, wit, and creativity to boot. Until now one genre staple has been conspicuously absent from the recent French horror wave… zombies. Of course by “zombies” I mean the viral-infected, homicidal, fast-running variety. Welcome to Mutants, or as it’s known in France, 28 Jours Plus Tard. (Not true.)
A nasty virus has spread throughout the human race turning the population into something… else. After a brief setup (and a messy hit and run) we’re introduced to an ambulance and its four occupants. Sonia (Helene de Fougerolles) and Marco (Francis Renaud) are together and riding with two police officers. Tensions rise between them as they head for a mythical research facility called NOAH that is reportedly infection free and working on a cure, and circumstances lead to Sonia and Marco holing up alone in an abandoned building. She’s pregnant, in love, and apparently immune to the virus… and she realizes that he’s been infected. He slowly transforms but her love for him refuses to give up on a cure, so she sets out to survive the onslaught of infected, attacks from still-human marauders, and the growing threat from her baby’s daddy.
Director/co-writer David Morlet has taken a familiar setup and given it a focused and dramatic twist. This isn’t simply a quick bit with a father forced to confront his zombified daughter for a moment before she tears into his flesh (Night of the Living Dead). This is a fully realized relationship with a third of the film devoted to the drama of dealing with a slowly deteriorating loved one. Marco’s teeth and hair begin to fall out, and his reaction is believable and realistic in his panic, frustration, and anger. We don’t fault Sonia’s decision to hang on to her lover… we encourage it because her love is palpable and we want her to succeed. But we also want some zombie-related disembowelment and bloodshed dammit.
Thankfully, as you can tell by the image at the top of the page, Mutants delivers on the blood and gore too. Gunshots splatter walls with wet stuff and the air with a fine misty rouge. Attacks by the infected leave bloodied corpses and pulpy messes on the floors. The action scenes are equally effective, and Morlet’s feature debut shows him to have a sharp eye for crisp visuals and violence.
It’s a narrative risk to take a third of a film otherwise devoted to action and horror and turn it completely over to your central character’s dramatic dilemma. Viewers more interested in the visceral side of things over the emotional may tune out or lose interest, and the third act return to the red stuff may come too late. Mutants faces that risk head on and survives almost entirely due to the power of de Fougerolles’ performance. You believe her love and determination are real, and even if you think her efforts are futile you find yourself willing to stand by her side and hope for the best… while secretly anticipating an influx of blood-thirsty Frenchies. Which of course means you’re both sad and happy when the merde hits the fan with Marco’s illness and a full-on attack from outside forces.
Mutants is a mix of things we’ve seen before and things we didn’t expect, and it pulls the combination off pretty damn well. Action scenes are intense and bloody and deaths are messy and violent. At times this is probably the closest imitator of Danny Boyles’ 28 Days Later style outside of that film’s sequel, and it works to create a world and environment both real and highly cinematic. While I’m always open to more action and gore in my pseudo-zombie flicks, it’s the story and character within Mutants that has caused the movie to grow even more on me in the days since my first viewing. It’s almost as if I’ve been infected…
Mutants was released this week on (region 2) DVD by Momentum Pictures, and it’s available from AmazonUK.
The Upside: Fans of 28 Days Later-style visuals and mayhem will be pleased; solid blood and gore effects; strong acting from Helene de Fougerolles; action and suspense scenes are limited but well done
The Downside: Middle section slows down to focus more on drama than horror; could have used more action and bloodletting