We're back in familiar genre territory at the start of David Morlet's French language horror debut "Mutants": a tense one-note base riff, like a heartbeat pounding out a semaphore drone suggests the mood of a John Carpenter-styled all action siege movie, and heralds our entry into yet another cinematic post-zombie apocalypse wasteland where we're presented with a desperate trio of survivors who have commandeered an ambulance and are in the process of fleeing the virus-infected cities for the snowbound solitude of some picturesque, mountainous French countryside. Aside from the sparkling Christmas card allure of the wintry surroundings, the social dynamic in this situation is all rather predictable when we first join the action: there seems to be rather a lot of tension between our three protagonists, particularly military hard-ass Perez (Marie-Sohna Condé) and ambulance driver Marco (Francis Renaud), who, it transpires, is in a relationship with pretty medic Sonia (Hélène de Fougerolles) who is pregnant with his baby. They're on their way to a military station called NOAH which has been broadcasting a message over the airwaves, offering hope of a defended refuge for uninfected survivors.
What quickly becomes very obvious is that our three protagonists are intensely suspicious of each other. Or rather Sonia and Marco are deeply paranoid about the taciturn Perez's real plans, and about just what NOAH represents. This sort of character antagonism would normally be expected to simmer throughout the film until it boils over in a Romero-style climax. We've seen it all before, of course - which is exactly why "Mutants" seems to be about to make the genre interesting again when, barely ten minutes in, there is a definitive confrontation which leaves Perez dead and Marco horribly injured by a gunshot wound. Sonia manages to bundle him back into the ambulance and, with the wails of flesh-hungry scavengers echoing through the snowcapped pines, they flee into the night. Eventually, the two stumble upon a huge abandoned facility deep in the wilderness, where Sonia is able to treat her ailing lover's wounds. But a much worse discovery is in the offing: somehow, Marco appears to have become infected with the raging virus which is devastating the rest of the country; and though Sonia has previously discovered herself to be immune to it (after an infected patient bit her), that does not seem to be the case for poor Marco!
What follows during the next half of the film is a slow burning meditation on disease and mortality as, unwilling to bow to her lover's demands that she kill him before he becomes one of the ugly flesh-ripping creatures which are currently stalking the countryside (it has to be said, the fully formed creatures' appearance is a straight rip-off of the cave crawlers from "The Descent"), Sonia tries to treat Marco as he suffers the grotesque physical effects of the transformation. This, of course, bears more than a little resemblance to the scenario at the centre of David Cronenberg's "The Fly", but placing it within the context of a "28 Days Later"-style zombie apocalypse does appear to offer the chance of something different from the usual zombie-based fare. There seems to be something of a euthanasia theme at the root of this material, with it becoming far from clear if Sonia's determination to hold on to whatever remains of her lover as he goes through the horrific torture of the change that's coming upon him, is really the best or most humane idea, no matter how much she loves him. Eventually Marco ends up confined to a dank basement cell in the lower levels of the building, having become far too dangerous to be left to roam freely.
However, all this tense, two handed angst-ridden business goes abruptly out of the window in the second half, and, disappointingly, things revert to the standard zombie action movie format, with the base being invaded by selfish, violent marauders who have picked up Sonia's radio message to NOAH; Sonia attempting a dash across zombie-infested territory to make another emergency call to the military base after its helicopters start scouting the area; and the creatures outside eventually invading the sanctuary of the base. Marco spends the rest of the film confined below ground and the whole of the previous plot seems to get dumped.
It's all shot professionally enough. The film has a cold, stark aesthetic and makes strong use of the now de rigueur shakicam effect in the zombie chase scenes. The surrounding winter scenery is nicely rendered, with a spot of CGI enhancement adding an effective sheen of gloss to the proceedings; the creature make-up is excellent if slightly derivative.
Unfortunately, it's all a bit of a come down after the promise shown in the opening half of the film. A potentially interesting plot thread concerning the suggestion that there night be more to the NOAH project than meets the eye leads nowhere, and even the attempt to produce a shock ending doesn't really work as effectively as it should have. Morlet seems to have been content merely to produce a show-reel movie that advertises his skills to mainstream Hollywood adequately enough, but, in the final analysis, doesn't display much in the way of originality.
Momentum Pictures' UK standard DVD release features a great anamorphic transfer that shows off the snowy forests and mountain scenery very nicely. The only extra is a trailer and the adequate 5.1 Dolby Digital French audio track is accompanied by removable English subtitles.