Sunday, April 24, 2011

6.1 MUTANTS (2009)

Mutants (2009)
Dir. David Morlet

Let me start off by saying that this film isn't really a zombie film.  Like 28 Days Later before it, this is a plague film that lifts most of the conventions of the zombie genre and puts them to good use.  It's also French, so like some of the other French horror films of the past few years (specifically things like Haute Tension, Frontière(s), and, my favorite, Martyrs), it has some intense scenes of violence and gore, along with a brutally devastating existential dread along for the ride.

And even though the infected are not really traditional zombies, the basic structure of the narrative fits with this Easter Movie Marathon is all about.  It's all about the resurrection, baby.

Morlet directs a script he co-wrote along with Louis-Paul Desanges, and for a first feature-length film, this is very impressive.  The performances, particularly by Hélène de Fougerolles and Francis Renaud as Sonia and Marco are gut-wrenching.  The rest of the cast does well with their roles, but aren't really required to do much more than provide sounding boards for the exploration and development of Sonia and Marco.

In fact, once more characters are introduced, again, as with 28 Days Later, the film begins to lose its focus and its intensity.

This film begins with a bang as we follow a desperate survivor running for her life through the woods.  She has apparently just escaped an attack by the infected and the quick cuts of her running are interspliced with the credits.  But it's a feint.  She's not our hero.  She's not even our focus once the credits end.  She's just a way for the film makers to tell us that we should expect the unexpected.  And it will be bloody.

It's a bit of a cheat, and made me think there was going to be more comedic elements, but I was wrong.  There's very little humor, if any.  This is bleak and psychologically brutal from start to finish.

Our main character Sonia is a doctor.  She and her husband/boyfriend (?) are on the run in their ambulance with two soldiers, one of whom is clearly dying.  When he doesn't make it, his partner promises to get them to safety at a military installation.  But she's not very trustworthy, and when the group discovers a horrifically traumatized autistic man, she refuses to allow him to come along.  Sonia and Marco object and within ten minutes of the opening credits only Sonia and Marco are the only survivors, and Marco is gut-shot.

Like I said, brutal.

The rest of the film, sans the final twenty minutes, is all about the lovers dealing with Marco's inevitable transformation into one of the inhuman Mutants of the title.  The film changes gears again, going from what seemed like was going to be a road movie, to a more traditional "holed-up in a remote location" setting.  And it's a helluva setting: an old abandoned hospital (I think) in the middle of the woods.

I have no idea what it was or why it was there, but it was beautifully filmed.  In fact, Morlet takes full advantage of the landscape in this film.  It was filmed in the North of France in the province of Picardy, and the landscape is all mountains and tall, narrow trees.  Snow covers everything and there's a grey foreboding to the nature itself.  This is the first film this week to really use establishing shots and landscape to support and reinforce thematic elements of the film. 

Hell, this is one of the few to really have thematic elements, to be honest.

It's refreshing to see a serious attempt at a zombie film, with a decent budget and technology, by film makers who have a distinct vision for what they're attempting.  This isn't about plot.  It's about character.  And even the scenery helps to illustrate what's going on psychologically.

As I said earlier, the last twenty minutes or so become more traditional, with a group of survivors invading the hospital and then the place is overrun by the infected.  There's lots of gunfire and masses of screeching, sprinting monsters leaping on people and tearing them to bloody pieces.

But it's the middle that makes this film.  The middle is preoccupied with Marco's transformation and how Sonia deals with it and him.  This is what Body Horror is all about, and there are a few scenes that would make Cronenberg squirm and nod, smiling.  There's your standard hair falling out, but the scenes dealing with Marco's dental problems made me a little queasy.  And the result when he tries to urinate was extremely disturbing.

Anyone is is really bothered by bodily deterioration should probably skip this one.  Any cancer or AIDS anxieties will be hammered hard with this film.

There's so much time spent watching Marco slowly fall apart that we almost overlook the idea that Sonia was bitten earlier, before the film began, and survived.  She seems to be immune, so her desperate hope is to contact the government, let them know she could be the source of a cure, and get Marco there before he completely turns.

Oh well.  Two out of three ain't bad.

This one was nicely done.  I'd recommend checking it out if you're ready for some seriously bleak and psychologically torturous existential dread.  Complemented by lots of gun fire and monsters.

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