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June 2010

Mutants

cast: Hélène de Fougerolles, Francis Renaud, Dida Diafat, Marie-Sohna Conde, and Nicholas Briancon

director: David Morlet

86 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Mark West

Mutants

Sonia Dufrey (Hélène de Fougerolles) is a medic, working with her partner (and, we later find out, lover) Marco (Francis Renaud), who drives the ambulance. The film opens with our heroes - plus Perez (Marie-Sohna Conde), a soldier and her partner, who is obviously dying - driving through deserted snowy roads. It soon becomes clear that some kind of contagion has struck France (and, presumably, the world), that turns people into mutated zombies. The ambulance is running low on fuel, so they pull up at a deserted service station and, after threatening to shoot them, Perez is killed but not before seriously wounding Marco. Sonia loads him into the ambulance and they find a huge old building in the woods, where they hole up whilst she attends to his wounds. But unfortunately, he's been infected.

A zombie film that isn't, this French production (English subtitles, with no option on the screener to switch them off or go to an alternate language) is low-key and for the bulk of the running time, it's a thoughtful, poignant reflection on the breakdown of the relationship between Sonia and Marco. She's been bitten, it transpires, but is apparently immune, and she's also pregnant, though it's not clear if Marco knows this. He suffers through the early stages, losing teeth and hair, until Sonia gives him a blood transplant that doesn't help either of them very much.

The acting is very good, with de Fougerolles portraying a strong character who could easily have become mawkish or whiny - she gains our sympathy because she does what we, the viewer, like to think we'd do. Renaud is also very good, reflecting in his eyes and jerky movements the transformation is undergoing as his humanity slips away. The remainder of the cast - Dida Diafat and Nicholas Briancon among them, who also find the building but are less than savoury - also do well. Briancon has a very good set piece, where he allows his girlfriend to be killed in front of him but, in saving himself, he just presents a target to another mutant.

Shot on DV, this has a stark look with a lot of blue filters, which adds to the cool, clinical feeling of the film - and the snowy exteriors. In keeping with the starkness, the effects are generally very good (even the digital blood, though why do filmmakers always fail to show it landing on the ground and staying there) and presented pretty much as-is, without any gratuitous jump-cuts. One suicide victim is presented almost as a part of the furniture and we see him before the character reacts. The make-up of the mutants looks good, though they reminded me a lot of the subterranean beasts of The Descent (facially, at least).

The direction is as low-key as the film, with some beautifully composed static and tracking shots until the mutants appears, when the shaky-cam gets taken out of the box and that jars - not so much as a technical device (they're quick, it's scary, we can't quite see what's going on), but because it feels like a different film altogether. But director David Morlet does very well with suspenseful set-pieces, such as the Briancon sequence I mentioned above, and also another where Sonia and Dida go to get some fuel.

The subtitles are unobtrusive (there's not a lot of dialogue), but sometimes it's obvious they were made phonetically rather than from a script. Dufray perhaps should be Dufrais, but the worst case is the local army base that everyone is heading for (and where Perez was stationed). When Sonia and the others call it on the radio and in conversation, it's NOAH. When the helicopters appear, it's NOE. That aside, it's well done.

This is a good, solid addition to the zombie canon, though I doubt it would appeal to everyone. Whilst it has the requisite gore and action, a lot of the time is spent on the human angle of the tragedy and I, for one, think that's the best route it could have taken.

Apart from a trailer - which gives away all the action beats - there were no extras on my screener copy.



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