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by Jay Seaver

"What's 'grrarrrr' in French?"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL: Zombie movies, even more than other types of horror movies, are kind of like Westerns. The specific background of how the characters got to where they start doesn't matter; the science or taxonomy of the monsters is secondary. The important part is that, like the western, you have people who have the ideals of a rational world, one with laws, ethics, and protection, trying to handle a world without them. David Morlet's "Mutants" doesn't break a lot of new ground in the field, but what it does come up with is worth seeing.

It opens with an ambulance screaming down a country road. Marco (Francis Renaud) is driving. Sonia (Hélène de Fougerolles), an EMT, is trying to treat a patient in the back; the patient is starting starting to turn into one of the mindless cannibals that has plunged the nation into chaos since summer. Perez (Marie-Sohna Conde), a hard-bitten soldier, is ready to cut their losses; she's also trying to raise NOAH, the government health/emergency management organization, on the radio. Stopping for gas, they come across a man who may have turned or may simply be autistic. More cannibals are heard. Guns come out. By the time they arrive at a large, abandoned building in the forest, their numbers have already been reduced, Marco has been bitten, although Sonia has reason to think that they have a chance if they can hold out long enough for the army to pick them up. Unfortunately, the first person to answer their radio call, Frank (Nicolas Briançon), isn't from the government.

There is clearly a great deal of 28 Days Later in the DNA of Mutants, although it makes some interesting contributions to the genre. The most interesting is how it adopts a somewhat realistic approach to how the virus affects the victims: In most zombie/ghoul/biohorror movies, it's close to instantaneous after an initial incubation period; Morlet has it attack Marco gradually, tormenting him, chipping away at his mental state, ebbing and strengthening almost randomly. It's in some ways even more horrifying than the physical attacks, because it gets at our sense of self. If Sonia is unable to stop the process, there won't be a single moment when Marco dies and his body becomes a zombie; just a gray area where you can't say exactly which he is.

Not a lot of time is spent openly meditating on this idea - the fact that there are a bunch of infected (and still-dangerous non-infected) everywhere tends to focus the characters' priorities. Morlet offers up plenty of blood and guts; the make-up people have really done a bang-up job, as has the sound crew. Fight choreography isn't fancy or fanciful, but it is brutal, with plenty of moments where the audience may say, OK, that guy is down, you can stop now. The big action sequence at the end is vicious, featuring a number of bits that are just downright cold.

The way Morlet and cinematographer Nicolas Massart shoot the movie runs hot and cold, with a lot of shaky camera work no matter what the situation. In the beginning, it conveys a great sense of speed; toward the end, when even exteriors are lighted the same sickly industrial green as the inside of the complex, it's a little less welcome (although you have to perversely admire how they got the camera to shake so much in such close quarters.

The cast is good, too. Ms. de Fougerolles hits all the notes one might want for a vulnerable heroine. It's a bit of a stock characterization (just to make sure you don't miss the symbolism of her being the life-symbolizing figure who can turn back the tide of living death, they make her a woman and a doctor and pregnant), but she makes it work, especially toward the end, when she displays a slight sense of cockiness based on how valuable she is but tempers it with being wise enough not to rely on it too much. Ms. Conde is the tough chick, and she plays it with enough testosterone that you may spend the opening minutes undecided whether or not she's a man. Francis Renaud does a nice job being tortured under increasing makeup and decreasing ability to articulate. Briançon is a quality jerk.

Horror fans who aren't afraid of a little French dialogue should definitely check this out. It's tart, sharp bio-horror in the "28 Days/Weeks Later" mold, but does enough interesting things with it to stand out among the crowd.

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originally posted: 07/17/09 11:15:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/13/17 Mark Louis Baumgart Gory, fast-paced, 28 Days Later based French zombie flick. Oh la-la. 4 stars
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  DVD: 26-Oct-2010



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