We recently ditched our overpriced cable subscription in favor of Netflix. We are currently enjoying a free trial month of the basic $8/month streaming video service, and so far we’re reasonably happy with it, but we will probably pay the extra $2 to upgrade to the DVD-by-mail option because there is so much more available that way. Most of the science fiction films available by Netflix streaming are SyFy Originals, which are universally terrible. (If anyone can contradict that last statement and cite examples, I would love to be proven wrong.)
So a few days after we get it set up, I’m lounging on the couch scrolling through the offerings, and find this French zombie film called Mutants in the horror and foreign films lists. Cool. I wasn’t a horror fan at all as a teenager, but I’ve developed a taste for the occasional zombie movie in the last few years, cheerfully helped along by my fellow Humans vs Zombies players– I’d originally come to the club for the Nerf battles, but the story aspect of the game is loads of fun, and after two weeks of paranoia, treachery, heroism, and cheerful mock-cannibalism, it is our tradition to have a party and watch zombie movies. The best way to watch any horror film is with a lot of friends, NOT at a movie theater, so you can all heckle the characters when they do stupid things.
So. Mutants. French zombie film. Netflix summary:
With an unstoppable virus turning the populace into violent zombies, Sonia (Hélène de Fougerolles) and her husband, Marco (Francis Renaud), scramble for safety. When Marco becomes infected, Sonia stands by his side and desperately searches for a way to prevent his mutation. But as Marco slowly transforms into one of the mutants, Sonia begins to fear for her life — and for the future of their unborn child. Rated R. (Are there any PG-13 zombie movies? I’d be surprised. It’s a very blood-splattered genre.)
There are four kinds of characters in a zombie movie: Hero/Survivor, Sacrifice, Protected, User, and Zombie/Food. (All characters have the potential to become Zombie/Food, including the Hero/Survivors in the last fifteen minutes of the film. However, I reserve this category for those characters who are too stupid to live and do not fit better in any other category.) Most zombie movies that I’ve seen so far (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead (original), Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, Dead Snow, Fido, Land of the Dead, I Am Legend) feature either a mix of male and female Hero/Survivors, or have just one male Hero/Survivor. Women in a mixed Hero/Survivor group may move back and forth between Hero/Survivor and Protected. There is no logical reason for this pattern; brute strength isn’t all that relevant in a zombie movie, as any character, male or female, that gets closer than machete-swinging range to a zombie is usually facing his or her imminent end.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
I was glad to see that Mutants wasn’t like any of those movies. Sonia is a Hero/Survivor character; Marco, her husband, quickly moves into the Protected category when he gets shot and bitten during a fight with a Zombie and a User fifteen minutes into the movie. Sonia, a doctor, takes him to an abandoned hospital where she sews up his bullet wound by the light of the flashlight mounted on the gun that Sonia took from the User (whom she killed), then keeps Marco from killing himself when they discover the bite wound. She does this by showing him a two-week-old bite mark on her side– she’s immune to the zombie pathogen. (Which does not, of course, mean she’s safe– she can still be killed outright like anyone else.) Sonia has to protect herself and Marco from the zombies, another group of Users, and each other. She tries to cure him using a blood transfusion, but it eventually becomes apparent that it isn’t working.
This movie, by the way, features the slowest on-screen human/zombie metamorphosis I have ever seen. It’s heartbreaking to watch– Sonia is desperate to save her husband, seeking alternatives at every turn in which Marco would have been shot if he’d been in a different zombie movie-eventually, when she’s on the verge of euthanizing Marco with a series of injections, she changes her mind and locks him in a closet instead of killing him because she can’t safely stay near him anymore, but maybe all he needs is another day for the disease to run its course. She eventually does kill him, but not until the last few minutes of the movie, and that scene is heartbreaking too.
I was largely unimpressed by the pregnancy twist; Sonia’s pregnancy is new enough that her belly is still flat, and she doesn’t seem to suffer from morning sickness. She’s also not in a situation where she can afford to think about things like “don’t get into a knock-down fight with Users or Zombies, you might miscarry.” So it has no direct effect on the plot. I think it’s meant to increase the urgency of Sonia’s situation, but that’s perfectly believable without her being pregnant– the day-to-day nature of Zombie Apocalypse Survival, and its instability, mean that by the time her belly grows to a problematic size she’ll either have successfully called in a helicopter a while ago, or she’ll be dead. The only really effective function it seems to have is to show how sick Marco has become when Sonia tells him that she’s expecting and he doesn’t react in any way.
Unlike Babylon 5, Mutants does not pass the Bechdel test. There are four female characters in this movie: the first one is Food, there to show that There Are Zombies and Things Are Bad, when she runs from zombies and then gets hit by the ambulance in the first two minutes of the movie. There is Sonia herself, the Hero/Survivor, and two female Users: Perez, a soldier who threatens to kill Sonia and Marco over the ambulance keys after refusing to let Sonia and Marco take on an additional passenger; and Dany, the rather stupid hanger on/girlfriend of a particularly cruel User named Frank. Dany doesn’t say much, except to Frank. However, there is not much conversation in general in this movie, so this is a minor point.
In conclusion: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆. Good marks for an impressive female lead character and unconventional handling of the genre. Points deducted for ineffective plot twists and failure of the Bechdel test.