The Mutant Chronicles (2008)

mutant_chronicles-poster2Granted, I didn’t fall in love with “The Mutant Chronicles” as much as I’d hoped, but with post-apocalyptic movies it’s almost impossible for me to be disappointed. Director Simon Hunter’s Science Fiction horror flick doesn’t disappoint even if it’s never anything above average. Hunter gathers all the right elements for the post-apocalyptic epic from corporate corruption, war, and religion, as well as the teaming of a group of survivors who could save the world with their collective skills on the battle field. Bringing strong memories of “Seven Samurai” to mind, Hunter and co. aim for a more comic book or video game approach by treating each character with a mini-bio per their introductions. Thanks to the ever vigilant Brother Samuel who acts as the resident moral center and martyr.

Samuel is a conflicted chap who takes it upon himself to destroy the machine, and Perlman’s performance is entertaining reliant on his ability to transform at the drop of a hat. There’s even a surprising walk on from John Malkovich. Based around eighty percent CGI surroundings a la “Sky Captain,” Hunter recalls a world that’s depleted of all natural resources and is now controlled by four major corporations that fight an endless war. During one skirmish, the warring nations accidentally unearth “The Machine” a satanic mechanism that turns humans in to violent mutants. Now with the world under the wrath of the monsters, the church gathers a small group of soldiers to destroy the machine.

From the deep tomes of religious commentary, political intrigue and big names, “The Mutant Chronicles” knows all the proper ingredients without ever managing to leave us wanting more. It’s hard to believe, because I was often entrenched in the story up until the story slowed down to deliver terrible dialogue (“God is life, these things are unlife”), while never being able to pin point what genre it belongs to. Is it a Faustian fantasy or a horror film? Is it a science fiction flick, or a war film? Its lack of focus brings down anything worth salvaging including characterization. I wanted to know who these people were, but they’re often interchangeable or killed much too quickly, and when it all finishes it simply ends without supplying much closure.

One of the main reasons to watch “The Mutant Chronicles” is for Hunter’s allusions to the classic war movies of the bygone era that sported the likes of John Wayne and Lee Marvin. Thom Jane gives a stand out performance as the war torn Simon Hunter, a veteran with a knack for leadership drawn in to combat after his best friend falls under the wrath of the mutants. There are many moments when Jane shines on screen with great moments of heroism that often seemed as if he was channeling Lee Marvin. What is the machine? How does it work? Why does it work? If we were told the machine had to be destroyed, why did it simply take off in to the sky? Where was it going? What happened to Hunter? Did he die, was he stranded, or turned? Damned if we’ll ever know, because while the writers do keep a healthy level of ambiguity and suspense, much of the machine’s workings make no sense, and what is explained is rarely ever clarified for the audience.

Especially considering half of the audience likely never played the RPG of which this is based on.  It’s left in the air, and we just move on to the next movie instead of absorbing what we’d just seen. As for the heavy handed narration, Perlman takes the duties of describing almost every single thing on screen even when he’s not around, which also leaves audiences scratching their heads and wondering why we even need him to describe what’s occurring. Once the film begins to roll with the mission to destroy the machine, Hunter’s film becomes a cavalcade of dazzling special effects and some thrilling war scenes that make up for the derivative narrative. The epic atmosphere is never quite accomplished and whether that can be attributed to the endless CGI, or the uneven story, it’s unsure.

“The Mutant Chronicles” is a movie that tries for big things and never actually accomplishes what it sets out for in the opening. The mission to get to the bottom of the world is a constantly harrowing one very much in the vein of “The Descent” and “Dawn of the Dead” while the mutants are a constantly creepy and merciless antagonist. “The Mutant Chronicles” makes for an entertaining bit of apocalypse fodder that reaches for limitless terror and almost gets it right. In spite of the entertainment value, Simon Hunter’s post-apocalyptic science fiction film has all the elements to be a harrowing epic take on the end of the world, but it never quite rises above being simply good, in the end. “The Mutant Chronicles” definitely isn’t setting any precedence, but it’s serviceable and fun.