French horror has graced American audiences with some gloriously brutal horror films over the past few years with INSIDE and MARTYRS being the standout releases for me. It is because of the high quality of those two movies that I feel the French are allowed a little leeway to have a few missteps here and there as with a film like MUTANTS. This is not to say the new French release of MUTANTS is a terrible movie, it is just not the same type of horrific monster as other horror films coming out of the country. It has the same trappings of an American cookie cutter zombie/monster movie, but with a certain sense of dread that is common amongst French horror films.
MUTANTS is set in a world plagued by a virus that transforms its victims into violent and bloodthirsty creatures. It opens with an ambulance speeding through abandoned roads with a handful of people nursing a man that has sustained a bite from one of the creatures. He begins showing signs that the virus has taken over so he is taken off the ambulance and put out of his misery. The medical team of Sonia and her husband Marco look for refuge after an altercation between the other member of the group winds up in bloodshed and Marco incidentally ingesting infected blood while also sustaining a gunshot wound. Sonia drives him to a large building to hide from the creatures and care for her ailing husband. Sonia reveals that she may be immune to the virus and attempts to cure Marco’s blood with hers but to no avail. She sends out radio messages and soon realizes that the voice on the other end may not be as friendly and concerned for their well-being as she had hoped.
I’ve read several pieces that refer to MUTANTS as a zombie movie, which is not entirely accurate. Sure, the creatures in this film move and behave like zombies; the virus is transmitted in the same way as in most zombie movies. The differences between these creatures and zombies are that trauma to the head is not the necessary requirement to kill the creatures, victims shed hair and their nostrils begin to grow in an almost alien like fashion and their skin also appears somewhat oily and their ears also transform. Some of this also seems to lead to consistency flaws as there are female creatures that have their hair fully intact and the main characters often seem to aim specifically for the head as if they are dealing with zombies, but also killing them by shooting them in the torso and neck as well. If the filmmakers intended a zombie movie then there are some glaring mythology flaws that are never addressed, if it’s an original made up monster then there are some minor establishing rules of the world that were never remedied; I’m leaning towards the latter. I use “original” loosely because the creatures are pretty similar looking to the creatures from THE DESCENT.
I have very little that I want to rave about the film in regards to acting, the actors all perform well but not mind blowing or memorable. The script is serviceable but not as engaging or interesting as I would wish it to be and the action is minimal but striking when the camera doesn’t go into convulsions. This is not the gory over the top gorefest that INSIDE and MARTYRS were; there is gore and it’s done effectively, but in terms of previous French horror it is tame and possibly PG-13 material compared to the other two examples, but even PG-13 level gore in a French film would hit hard R in the states. However, given the bloodbath I’ve become accustomed to in foreign horror; I found the lack of balls to the wall carnage somewhat disappointing. I do give it points though because the drama makes the horror that happens more effective, even if I don’t think the drama was extremely well done.
As much as I love a dark ominous score in movies, I always applaud the use of silence and there are a few moments here and there where silence really builds the tension to what’s about to happen. The problem is that the horror that happens never lives up to the tension the silence built up. The soundtrack here is a mixture of generic horror movie tones and what I would call modern rock or heavy metal music, and it’s not particularly memorable.
The most praise I want to give this film is for the cinematography. The setting and the look of the film is actually pretty gorgeous for a film with ugly creatures and blood flying around on screen. I am a sucker for horror movies that make use of a cold snowy setting because the scenery to me is beautiful and the mixture of blood and horror into the cold make for visually striking cinema. Small details like steam rising from a body in the cold or just seeing ones breathe in the falling snow all just resonate in my mind when I’m watching a movie. On that note alone I give the film my stamp of approval.
MUTANTS is not the blood soaked carnage I had come to hope for and expect in French horror; instead it’s merely a messy handful of partially bloodied band-aids in comparison. The look and feel of the film hide the bland and tame been there done that story with brief glimpses of bloodshed. The violence still hits an effective level more than most American horror films but pales in comparison to the recent crop of foreign horror movies.