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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I've seen some pretty extreme American horror films, but it seems that the most gory and nasty ones often come from other countries. A great example is the French movie Mutants, available on demand from your local cable company via IFC Festival Direct. Even my jaded, horror movie-lovin' self was rocked by the intensity of what Mutants gives us. This kind of horror cinema is not meant for wimps; it's raw, bloody, and effective.

It wouldn't be 100% accurate to call this a zombie picture, but it does follow the template pretty closely. The story opens with some unknown contagion having already turned large sections of the population into bloodthirsty mutants. A young medic named Sonia (Helene de Fougerolles) and her boyfriend Marco (Francis Renaud) are riding in an ambulance with another passenger. Mutants attack, killing the passenger and splattering blood all over Marco, thereby possibly infecting him. The two make their way to an abandoned housing complex in the middle of nowhere, and attempt to contact a government agency called NOAH that may be able to rescue them.

It soon becomes clear that Marco is indeed infected. Sonia locks him in one of the rooms, for his own protection as well as hers. Some other wanderers, armed to the teeth, also find the complex and come inside. Their leader, Franck (Nicolas Briancon), is pretty ruthless when it comes to killing mutated people, so Sonia not only has to worry about the complex being attacked, but also about Franck finding out about Marco. And, of course, both those things happen.

There's plenty of nasty, gory carnage on display in Mutants, yet it never really feels gratuitous. Director David Morlet uses the excessive blood-spilling not so much for cheap thrills as to convey the sheer awfulness of the virus. The scariest thing about zombie movies has always been the thought of your friends and loved ones turning into some undead, brain-eating creatures, far removed from their normal selves. Mutants takes the idea a step further, making you think about the possibility of those same friends and loved ones suffering from a contagion that painfully transforms them into walking demons, rotting away from the inside. A few plot twists also feed into this, but I don't want to give anything away.

The mutant attacks are quite scary and staged with cleverness. As much as I love zombie movies, they can sometimes seem the same. This one uses cinematography and editing to accentuate the action, so that all the attacks feel like they are occurring at blinding speed.

At its core, though, Mutants is really a human story. Sofia is a woman trying to navigate a situation that is continually life-threatening, and she does it knowing that the man she wanted to spend her life with may be slowly slipping away into some other kind of existence. For all the blood and gore and carnage, Mutants is, in some ways, an existential horror movie. It's about the realization that, once certain things happen, life will never be the same. Could it have done even more with this premise? Yes, and it might have been an all-time classic if it had. Still, too many horror movies don't aim very high at all. For having plenty of scares and a little ambition, I think Mutants is worth seeking out.

( out of four)

Mutants is rated R for violence and gore. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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