A bunch of kids in rural Quebec trying to win the opening game of their little league season while dealing with raging hormones in the summer heat makes for a great, if familiar coming of age story. Mutants begs to disagree with that appraisal though. Despite the general shape of a rah-rah underdog story, this is not just another pre-teen drama, as Alexandre Dostie’s Film is straight up filthy. The director pushes the sports/coming of age film to the limits of taste, and in doing so delivers an original, entertaining and fresh story out of this formulaic genre. In his directorial debut Dostie gathers the perfect ingredients to capture the rawness of the transitional period that are the teenage years.
Told through the eye(s) of Keven, the year is 1996 when, during baseball practice, he gets hit by the ball in the face, closing up an eye. This marks the beginning of his mutation, shaking up the banality of his small town life. Keven is the shy one on his team, and just like any underdog, all he wants is for his team to win, and to get the girl he has a crush on. His black eye forces him to assert himself as a coach rather than player, and in this role of responsibility he embarks on a summer of firsts and self-discovery.
Keven is very easy to identify to, or at the very least root for, as he embodies what being a weird kid, feeling awkward and out of place, is. He is the shy underdog facing a bullying teammate, buoyed by the guidance of his mentor, while dealing with the butterflies revolving his crush on one of the two girls on his team. Through events triggered by the impact of the ball on his eye, he gets a glimpse at adulthood: both its pleasures, and responsibilities.
The costumes and hair throw us immediately back in the 90s. From the opening scenes we are reminded how gross young teenagers can be as they masturbate onto a piece of toast, and Dostie is only getting started. Yet, Mutants is not only about shock—in under 20 minutes we see Keven growing up from simply wanting to play baseball and flirt, to finally getting what he wished for but not being able to enjoy it, as he realizes that (adult) life is not that simple. One second you could be riding your bike under fireworks with your girl, but in the next something terrible might happen.
Dostie sees it as some kind of PSA for teenagers: “If you think achieving this first love, this first kiss was hard… Well, you ain’t seen shit. It’s downhill from there.”
Inspired by his own childhood, Dostie went back to where he grew up in southern Quebec to shoot the film. Nostalgia is omnipresent throughout the film, but Dostie still succeeded at creating a refreshing take on the genre through outrageousness and grossness. In doing so, he showcases the loss of innocence in an unpolished, truer, and surprisingly genuine way.
Mutants has travelled all around the world on the festival circuit after winning the best Canadian short film at TIFF 2016. Though it is his first short, Dostie is no stranger to the short film world. Far from it, he is a senior exec for Travelling, one of the most successful distributors in the Canadian short film industry. While he is being very secretive about his future projects, after such a triumphant first short, we can only hope that Dostie will be back behind the camera sooner than later.