Friday, August 14, 2009

Have Faith: Mutant Chronicles

Mutant Chronicles
Directed by Simon Hunter
Magnolia Pictures

Where can you find a positive portrayal of religious faith in the movies today? Evidently, one has to look to the year 2707, on an Earth about to be over-run by mutant hordes. Based on a role-playing game, Simon Hunter’s Mutant Chronicles (trailer here), has the virtue of treating themes of faith and sacrifice with respect, which makes for surprisingly interesting viewing now that it is available on DVD.

Make no mistake, Mutant is about one thing: killing mutants. Set in an oddly steam-punkish future, four superpowers are locked in a constant state of battle, transporting armies via rocket ship so they can engage in trench warfare reminiscent of World War I. Unbeknownst to the combatants, centuries ago an ancient monastic order sealed an alien mutant factory beneath their mystic manhole cover. When the warring parties accidently break the seal all bets are off for the Earth. However, Brother Samuel has faith.

With a ragtag team of volunteers led by Major Mitch Hunter, the monk journeys into the bowels of the mutant lair to fulfill an ancient prophecy. It might be the apocalypse, but Brother Samuel is still able to recruit a scrupulously diverse team. Much shooting and a fair amount of hacking-and-slashing ensues.

Mutant essentially follows in the tradition of shoot-em-up creature films, featuring some fairly well staged action scenes. In fact, the gritty opening sequence is particularly effective capturing the confusion when the rampaging mutants surprise two warring factions. Sure, sometimes the film makes no sense at all, like when the intrepid band jumps off a bridge to attack some mutants, thereby giving up their advantage of the high ground, but that just seems to go with the mutant-zombie killing territory.

Still, what distinguishes Mutant is indeed the role faith plays in the story, providing the initial impetus for Brother Samuel’s mission and sustaining it during the darkest hours. Although not explicitly identified as such, his order bears a certain resemblance to Christianity, or at least a variant which presumably evolved over the troubled centuries.

As the good brother, Ron Perlman brings instant genre credibility to Mutant, despite playing a heroic character for a change. Sean Pertwee (the son of John Pertwee, the third Doctor Who) is appealingly hardnosed as Hunter’s ill-fated commander Nathan Rooker. Devon Aoki is also appropriately attractive as the gun-toting Duval and John Malkovich chews the scenery with relish in a brief cameo as Constantine, the leader of the Capital Corporation. Unfortunately, Thomas Jane is a bit too stiff and sullen as the square-jawed Hunter.

Bolstered by several enjoyable supporting performances, Mutant is a reasonably diverting sci-fi action excursion. Probably its greatest drawback is the lack of a strong villain to counterbalance Brother Samuel and company. As a midnight movie though, it moves along at a nice clip and has a refreshingly unusual religious subtext. Altogether, genre fans should find it worth checking out on DVD.