Contains mild spoilers.
It's months after the viral outbreak and a pandemic has decimated what was France. The film opens with Sonia (Hélène de Fougerolles) and her partner Marco (Francis Renaud), two paramedics, desperately speeding through the desolate wintry mountain paths of Northern France (it was shot in Picardy though location is never explicitly mentioned in the film). With them and calling the shots somewhat is Perez (Marie-Sohna Condé) a cold military type who is helping them locate Noah, the last controlled stronghold and the only glimmer of hope.
Morlet has a pretty poor opinion of how people would react come the end of the world. I can understand a little utilitarianism and Perez's early action to throw someone who's been bitten from the ambulance and then shoot them in the head is understandable given the circumstances. However her initial cold indifference then open hostility when stopped looking for petrol at the suggestion from Sonia and Marco that they should perhaps look to help a young autistic survivor is just downright self-serving and shitty. Then again the theme is bleak and survival 101, and months of confusion, starvation and little hope would I'd imagine, tend to focus the mind on to doing whatever it takes. Anyway, the upshot to the disagreement is the young autistic kid, who it appears was infected after all, gets shot, Marco gets shot and Perez gets a lot shot.
Mutants is another zombie film which has the protagonists virally deranged but definitely alive. The obvious parallel is 28 Days Later and they certainly have much in common; fast, rabid with a single minded drive to not only beat the living shit out of anyone they notice but sink their teeth in and kindly pass on the virus. I'm not going to go in, yet again, to the rhyme and reason why I now think physical death isn't a mandatory requisite for zombification suffice it to say the poor souls of Mutants have their will and self taken from them by the virus and the people they were are now dead even if they do happen to still have a pulse. There is one big differentiator though between these crazies and Boyle's and it's important not just as a zombie-lore observation but as the key narrative device of the film.
Taking refuge in an abandoned hospital cum isolated forest building, Sonia tends to Marco's wounds and looks to get a radio message to Noah. His initial prognosis is good except for one small thing. It would appear during the earlier struggle he got some of the infected blood in his mouth and he's showing all the early symptoms of the virus too. Mutants may be visceral, violent and unpleasant but it's also calm, gentle and full of affection. The main differentiator between I mentioned is incubation time. There's no immediate reaction; the process is slow, painful to endure and even more painful to watch especially if you're a close loved one. The bulk of the film is watching Marco's painful deterioration and Sonia's beautifully portrayed attempts to never give in despite the weight of inevitability.
The journey from self-aware cognizant individual to rabid primal zombie is uneven, relentless, haunting and explicit. Whether it's watching Marco vomit or piss blood, rip out his hair or teeth or violently convulse, Morlet doesn't hold back letting us watch one of the best cinematic transformations play out with real honesty and starkness. From fevered dream to paranoia to psychosis; Marco's mental deterioration is just as distressing, and as you watch the man swing in and out of himself there's a pervasive uncomfortable feeling you're intruding into something deeply personal and private.
Mutants is a remarkable film; unremittingly bleak and evocatively shot with moody slow sequences and a brilliant unobtrusive score. It's violent and gratuitous, full of head shots, brain smashing, shooting and some powerful exploitative themes played around with, yet it's also tender, and a desperate personal love story. There's a lot going on with the infected though I'm not sure all of it works. By maintaining they're alive, there's the added complication of exactly how they're staying alive given the long winter months and lack of food and shelter and there's also pseudo psychic sequence that while I can see what Morlet was trying to do comes across a bit clumsy and overly-artistic. They're small gripes overall, and I can't help but be quite enamoured, recommended, 7/10.