APRIL 28, 2011
Someone on Twitter told me that Mutants was good but not a typical zombie movie, which just got me more excited to watch it. I think I can go the rest of my life without seeing another zombie movie where strangers hole up together and argue incessantly while fending off waves of the undead who are always nice enough to give them a break every now and then so they can argue some more. And I CERTAINLY don’t need another zom-com anytime soon. But since this was a French horror movie, I wasn’t too worried about humor.
In fact, it’s only when the movie dips into familiar territory that it starts to waver a bit, particularly when the obligatory evil humans show up. The characters didn’t annoy me as much as usual, but the pacing of the film suddenly seemed off. One of the bad guys doesn’t even get a proper introduction, he just sort of appears in a scene as if he was always there, and there are some other moments involving their antagonistic relationship with our heroine that seemed rushed through. I wasn’t even entirely clear why they were at odds with her – the building she’s in doesn’t seem particularly desirable (unlike the mall in Dawn of the Dead, for example), she has no supplies or weapons worth a damn, and the only thing they seem to want is her ambulance, which has run out of gas (and she’s made no attempts to locate some for it). But they don’t tie her up or anything either, so it doesn’t seem like they plan to kill her. Just seems like they added the conflict in order to add some tension, but didn’t really flesh out the motives on either side.
But I liked how low-key it was, largely focusing on our heroine and her boyfriend, who gets infected early on, but due to the method (swallowing some blood instead of being bitten), he is turning much slower than the others. So we get a pretty detailed account of him turning into a monster, complete with a horrifying “he’s losing his teeth” scene, which is topped by an even more horrifying scene where he pisses insane amounts of blood. I’m not sure what was going on there – was his dick falling off too? Either way I was mortified. If the movie had heroine usage it would complete the trifecta of the only things I legitimately get uncomfortable watching.
Another cool thing was that it was largely a single location movie but they didn’t try to make the building its own character. Everything stayed focused on the humans and their plight, instead of wasting time showing off the various rooms in the deserted hospital and what it did or didn’t have (on the other hand, I quite enjoyed the occasional snowy exteriors - not enough horror movies set in the snow, dammit!). Nor was it a siege movie; the zombie action is pretty much saved for the end (shades of Day of the Dead), which allowed for enough time spent with our protagonists to genuinely care about their survival.
It may have been a bit TOO slight though; it’s only 89 minutes long and that includes credits (plus it’s a foreign film so there’s like two full minutes of “with the participation of” title cards). Since the tragic love story is sort of the backbone of the thing, I wouldn’t have minded a few scenes of the two of them in relationship mode; there’s very little evidence of their love before he gets bit. Zombie Honeymoon did this sort of thing better (though that film had other issues – not saying it’s a better film overall, but in this particular area I think ZH was more successful).
The makeup/wardrobe team should have worked to make the doomed hero more distinguishable from the other zombies once he turned. It was hard to tell him from at least two other zombies (at one point I thought the heroine had casually dispatched him, but it was just some anonymous zombie that looked nearly identical). Give him a white shirt or cool scar or something! Otherwise, the makeup is pretty cool; again, we don’t see a lot of zombies, but their grayish, dirty look blended well with the film’s high contrast, blue-toned cinematography. And there’s some healthy use of the red stuff, particularly on/around our turning hero, who at one point is covered with it from head to toe after a botched transfusion attempt (there’s also an obscene amount during his self-root canal).
However, I was kind of hoping they would be a little more “mutant” like, given the name and all. They don’t sport new body parts or grow in any significant way, and I didn’t even see “monster” teeth or anything that would back up the “old teeth falling out” (though as the movie was subtitled it’s possible I was looking at a “Nooo!” or something at the bottom of the screen instead of focusing on the zombies’ dental state). They just lose their hair and the ability to speak, and then pretty much just act like your every day zombie. It’s a unique take on the genre, but sadly saddled with a generic title (there’s also a DTV Michael Ironside movie with the same name – I rest my case).
So it’s not perfect, but as my Twitter pal said, it’s not a typical zombie movie, and we can always use more of those (and no, mashing it up with some literary classic doesn’t count). I’m always happier to see a flawed fresh take than a technically perfect rehash where I know exactly where a movie is going right from the start.
What say you?