By Chris Shalom
CALGARY — The 1987 movie World Gone Wild, starring Bruce Dern, is rare enough that the IMDb search bar won’t autocomplete for it even once you’ve typed the whole title. The Calgary-shot, Syfy-coproduced, 2014 film Mutant World is a spiritual companion in many ways. Both have the same watered-down, goofied-up Road Warrior plot, both shoehorn in a recognizable singer-actor (Adam Ant and Ashanti, respectively), and both will have the same destiny – one day Mutant World, too, will be slighted by IMDb’s autocomplete.
Most importantly, though, like World Gone Wild, the few who embrace Mutant World will cherish it.
The tale of gun-toting survivors on an excursion through a barren post-apocalyptic world (or, as we Albertans call it, home) is probably most interesting as a contemporary example of a sub-genre that had an almost exclusive synergy with the 80s. The flood of high-camp sci-fi Westerns that followed Star Wars and Road Warrior – and brought us singular works like Radioactive Dreams, Buckaroo Banzai, and Hell Comes to Frogtown – more or less died out in the early ‘90s (Ross Perot’s fault, presumably). But with the long-awaited Mad Max: Fury Road due out next year, maybe Mutant World is ahead of the curve on a revival.
So what’s changed from the sub-genre’s heyday to now? Plenty, actually. For one thing, the movie’s delightfully female-centric, despite the largely male creative team. One of the triumphs of World is that its female characters aren’t the market-driven, let’s-placate-the-social-progressive-sector type of, say, Marvel Studios’ entire catalogue. Gender isn’t central to the film, nor is it central to the world the film depicts. Mutant World just happens to have well-rounded female characters that kick a lot of ass, and no one in front of or behind the camera seems to think that’s particularly noteworthy.
In fact, the film simultaneously upholds and subverts the Reagan-era Hollywood theme of father-son continuity. The moment of apocalypse – a meteor strike, for what it’s worth – coincides with the loss of protagonist Melissa’s father (who’s played by the fantastic Kim Coates). But Melissa’s journey leads her to the eventual embodiment not of her father, but of the mysterious Preacher, a motorcycle-straddling, steel-whip-cracking Ashanti in leather and a cowboy hat. Ashanti doesn’t suck at acting any less than usual, but a key bonding scene between her and Holly Deveaux’s Melissa, steeped in aggressive Christian overtones, evinces a curious and appealing gravity. It’s a clichéd scene that’s instantly defamiliarized by its characters’ genders, and it’s a fine showcase for both Deveaux and director David Winning.
Less happily, gone are the days when B-movies were necessarily shot on film, and gone with them is that particular low-budget film look that helps more than hinders older sci-fi cheapies. Mutant World looks bad, and it looks worse than it would have looked in the ‘80s. A change, too, is the sort of financing that brings about this kind of movie; the fact that World is immediately destined for Syfy means that a number of TV-movie conventions, most notably the need to open fast and big, strain the film’s storytelling.
But for the crowd it was shot for – and, judging by the obvious passion onscreen as well as at the heavily cast and crew-attended CIFF showing, the people it was shot by – Mutant World is exactly what it needs to be. The action’s constant, the characters are colourful, the nurses are sexy and the mutant blood splatters…what more could you ask for?AB, Alberta, Calgary International Film Festival 2014, Mutant World