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Ulises [Celluloid 11.05.09] France post apocalyptic zombies movie review



Year: 2009
Directors: David Morley
Writers: David Morley & Louis-Paul Desanges
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ulises Silva
Rating: 8 out of 10

The Bottom Line: A worthy addition to the zombie canon that, despite a predictable third act, gives zombie fans something new and chilling to contemplate.

Repeat after me: in the classic zombie survival narrative, the enemies are not the zombies/mutants/infected miscreants, but ourselves. How many times have we seen a group of survivors fending off wave after wave of happy-go-lucky flesh-eaters before turning against each other in a fit of paranoia, claustrophobia, or plain stupidity? Quite enough, and that’s part of the allure of the zombie genre, methinks. Romero started it, and most zombie flicks seem to have continued that trend in one shape or another.


Mutants, a French virus/zombie film by David Morley, certainly does, but it’s added its own distinct element. In this incarnation of the tried-and-true formula, the enemy isn’t just a stranger the protagonist is holed up with. It’s a lover and father-to-be. And his gradual descent into infection will test his grief stricken partner, who is left alone with him in an isolated facility in the middle of a snowy forest.

Morley is all about that whole “we are our own worst enemies” thing. In fact, he gets right to it, as we’re immediately thrust into a racing ambulance (which just splattered some poor infected soul) with two medics, Sonia and Marco, and two soldiers. One of the soldiers is infected and dying, and his partner, a husky black woman with a thing for pointing her gun at people, decides to off him right then and there on the side of the road. And since this doesn’t curry a whole lot of good will with her reluctant companions, the stage is set for a very early confrontation among survivors. The results of their little tiff set the stage for the main narrative: two survivors holing up in an abandoned facility in the middle of a snow-covered forest.

Oh, right. Almost forgot to mention, there’s some kind of virus that’s apparently wiped out chunks of the population and turned them into something bad. We don’t know what at first, nor do we even know the extent of the catastrophe. All we know is that Sonia and Marco are trying to reach a military based called NOAH, an apparent safe house in the midst of the viral breakout. But the infection and ensuing calamity seem almost an afterthought, as Morley focuses more on the relationship between Sonia and her dying lover.

Sonia and Marco make their way through the snowy roads and find an abandoned medical facility in the middle of the woods. Here in relative safety from the hordes of infected, Sonia attempts to make contact with NOAH base while tending to her wounded lover. It’s not long before he begins to exhibit the signs of infection—his hair and teeth fall out, he becomes increasingly violent, and, oh, starts to attack her. So she does what any sane, practical, intelligent person would do when trapped in an isolated facility with someone who’s about to turn into a rabid, bloodthirsty mutant—she keeps him alive and unrestrained, with the hope of curing him. See, she seems to have some immunity to the virus thanks to her blood type, which she hopes to transmit to him somehow. Marco also happens to be the father of her unborn child. And, well, there’s that whole true love thing, which means she will do everything humanly possible to help her infected mutant-to-be.

Therein lies the film’s focus, as it posits a very chilling scenario for contemplation: if you’re trapped in the middle of nowhere with someone you love, and that someone is gradually becoming a mutant who’s going to do terrible, bitey things to you, what do you do? Do you hold on to the fleeting hope of a miraculous cure because you can’t stand to lose them? Or do you contemplate the unthinkable and kill them before they fully turn?

It’s a scenario that Morley plays out effectively. Part of his success is the film’s setting: there’s something inherently melancholic about being trapped in a snow-covered forest, with nothing but the cold and a few rounds of ammo to keep Sonia company. She’s isolated from the outside world—her radio calls go unanswered—and the decisions she is forced to make are that much more dramatic because she has no support and no room for error.

The rest of the film’s success lies in Sonia’s character herself. She’s a scared but determined everywoman thrust into extraordinary circumstances against her will. She’s naïve and maybe a little foolish, but she’s also a grieving lover who understandably refuses to let go of the last good thing in her life. But like all the best zombie-narrative heroes, she learns to adapt, and learns to survive at any cost. (And she takes a lot of punishment. Seriously, what is with these French heroines and their ability to withstand so much physical abuse?)

The film, I think, would have succeeded in creating something truly special had it focused entirely on the deteriorating relationship between Sonia and Marco. Because his descent into infection seemed more like a descent into madness, there was more room for Morley to explore the psychology of entrapment and more incisively explore the scenario he’s presented. Alas, the third act introduces four new characters who’ve found their way to the facility and don’t exactly play nice.

Their entry into the narrative effectively ends the dynamic between Sonia and Marco, and the film becomes a more conventional zombie flick. And by this, I mean that the story, from here on, follows a very familiar formula. Bad guys break in. Sonia and bad guys don’t get along. Bad guys make demands. This and that. Infected mutants make their way in. Lots of non-recreational running. Plenty of gore (and a few EEEEWWW moments thrown in, too). You know, the way every zombie flick seems to end these days.

Which is disappointing. Because while the action is good and the gore decent, we’ve seen it before, and the story of Marco and Sonia had more potential. It forced us to see the typical zombie/virus outbreak from a very constrained and intimate perspective. Indeed, we don’t even see the infected until the very end, and we only get fleeting glimpses of what Marco will turn into. We hear plenty—as Sonia holes up in the facility, she hears the screeching howls of the infected in the surrounding woods, and she hears NOAH’s helicopters flying overhead. But like her, we see nothing but snow and the drab, crumbling interior of her hideaway. We don’t know how many mutants there are, if NOAH exists, or even the true extent of the outbreak. And like her, we’re trapped with just one other character, the father of her unborn child—and a mutant-to-be.

Mutants is 28 Days Later and Day of the Dead meets The Shining, and it takes the zombie genre’s theme of isolation to a new level. It presents a provocative, melancholic case study of the limits of human affection when confronted with the unimaginable. And despite the predictable and formulaic turn of the third act, the first two acts should please anyone who enjoys their heroes trapped, their apocalypses thorough, their zombies fast and mean, and their heroines handy with submachine guns.

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quietearth (7 years ago) Reply

The beginning was great, but it went downhill after that.. I'd give it a 5 out of 10.

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agentorange (7 years ago) Reply

Welcome back Ulises!

I'd give it higher than a 5, though I agree it went a little downhill and got kind of predictable. That said, I'd take Mutants over Dead Snow any day.

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uncleB (7 years ago) Reply

Can't be as bad as Last of the Living can it? I'm a glutton for punishment so I'm sure I'll end up picking this one up if I run across it somewhere.


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