The New Mutants, 2020.
Directed by Josh Boone.
Starring Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga.
Five young mutants held against their will in a secret facility, do battle against their personal demons while discovering their abilities…
As someone who hasn’t been too familiar with The New Mutants comic book property previously, I was caught completely off-guard when its teaser trailer dropped way back in 2017. The very thought of seeing a superhero film infused with horror elements certainly intrigued me enough to actually look forward to the film’s release. Even from the studio’s perspective, The New Mutants, which features a cast of talented young actors and a promising indie-film director at its helm, seemed like a sure-fire win. But alas, it was not meant to be. Mixed test-screenings, rumors of reshoots and Disney’s acquisition of Fox, pushed back the release of the film on multiple occasions and diminished my anticipation for it in the process. It was a film that I never thought would see the light of day to be quite honest, especially with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. But through an unusual turn of events The New Mutants was finally slated to be released in late August 2020. So, now that I’ve seen it I can quite confidently state that the film isn’t the proverbial disaster that it’s being labelled as, far from it, but it does have its share of issues.
The film follows the story of five young mutants, held captive in a secret research facility by one Dr. Cecilia Reyes who intends to keep them safe and sound within the institution’s confines until they discover and control their powers. Of course, the good Dr. Reyes isn’t doing all this with altruistic intentions in mind, as we find out later on, but the it does lend us an opportunity to get to know our angst-ridden, hormone raging oddities a bit better. Most of them possess fairly pedestrian superpowers like jet-speed flight, inter-dimensional travel and shape shifting, so the more fascinating aspect of the film is the various interactions this motley-crew of teenagers have with one another. The collective traumas which broke them individually, function to bring them together as a group when things go south; their connective-tissue is their emotional baggage.
The performances were a bit of a hit or miss for me, with the standouts being Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams and Alice Braga respectively. Neither Blu Hunt nor Henry Zaga were particularly impressive in their roles, with their performances occasionally bordering on the amateurish. The biggest disappointment though was Stranger Things alum Charlie Heaton and his painfully bad Southern drawl, easily the worst thing since Jude Law’s grandiose Carolina accent in the 2016 biopic Genius. Adding insult to injury Heaton also wasn’t given sufficient screen-time to shine in his role, which is quite sad. One can argue that Taylor-Joy’s thick Russian accent wasn’t that far behind Heaton’s Southern drawl, but it works in the former’s favor, adding to her already flamboyant, scenery-chewing performance. Williams on the other hand strikes the right balance throughout the film, functioning as the narratives most relatable and realistic character. The romantic relationship that blossoms between her and Hunt’s character also never felt contrived, as is the case with most films these days. Alice Braga infuses her role with a sufficient amount of quiet menace and steely-eyed intensity as befitting the film’s shady scientist cum antagonist. Looking forward to seeing the talented Brazilian actress next year in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.
Director Josh Boone who previously helmed the heartbreaking romantic-drama The Fault in Our Stars does a commendable job with his first foray into the big-leagues. And for the most part Boone succeeds in crafting a decent horror-tinged YA Superhero drama. From a technical standpoint there’s a lot to like here, especially with Peter Deming’s appropriately atmospheric cinematography and X-Files composer Mark Snow’s 90s-esque synth heavy soundtrack. It’s certainly nice to see Snow make a return to mainstream film, and here’s hoping we’ll see more of this talented musician’s efforts in future, especially in the superhero genre. But getting back to Josh Boone, where the director falters, is with his decision to ‘not’ make this a fully-fledged superhero horror film, as it was marketed in the beginning. There are some promising horror/thriller elements littered here and there, but none of them are fleshed out properly. Many notable horror flicks slapped with a PG-13 rating – like Insidious, Lights Out and The Ring – have not only delivered on the scares but also complimented them with great stories and performances. However, that isn’t the case here, as neither the story, performances or scares come up to the mark.
Albeit entertaining, The New Mutants is a bit of a mixed-bag. It possesses great potential but lacks focus and direction. As a result, the film’s myriad aspects don’t quite cohere to form a satisfying whole, but hey, I’ve seen worse and this doesn’t even come close.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.