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Review: The New Mutants (2020)

I'm a former film student of 6 years with a bachelors degree in film production and screenwriting.

The New Mutants

Back in 1999 the very first 'X-Men' movie, directed by Bryan Singer set a new precedent for super-hero movies with inspired casting choices, spectacular action and memorable characters. Whilst the journey of the franchise lasted around 20 years, it wasn't without a few blunders and suffered a quick decline in quality towards the end. 'The New Mutants', in many respects is the final attempt by 20th Century Studio's and Marvel Entertainment in ending on a high and the corporate giant really had its work cut out for it, following the lacklustre 'Dark Phoenix' with what is essentially a spin off with an entirely new cast. Unfortunately, 'The New Mutants' turned out to be a generic teen horror flick with little for audiences to engage with.

Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) awakes to find herself handcuffed to a hospital bed following the destruction of her Cheyenne reservation by an unseen force. The bewildered teen has been taken in by a stern and authoritarian Dr Cecelia Reyes (Alice Braga) who claims she wants to help her understand and control her dormant mutant abilities. Also in Reyes' hospital is bratty and obnoxious Illyana Rasputin, quiet and troubled Charlie Heaton, rich stud, Roberto and shy Catholic girl, Rahne (Maisie Williams)... and oddly enough, no one else it seems. Between reckless teenage disregard for the rules and angst, the teenagers begin to find themselves subjected to projections of their worst nightmares due to yet another unseen force with no chance of escape.

Of course each one of these teens are mutants and grapple with her uncontrolled power. Maisie Williams' Rahne is a shape shifter, something which was brutally punished by her Catholic church, although it seems it didn't shake her faith. Roberto's fiery form burned his beloved to cinder, Charlie's habit of blasting off like a rocket decimated a mine in which he and his father worked and Illyana's aptitude for magic sword summoning and love for purple dragon puppets got her into some kind of trouble involving a band of masked monster men. But despite the regular displays of power, 'The New Mutants' doesn't feel like an X-Men movie at all. Their comic book monikers are never touched on and there are few narrative strings tying them to their parent franchise besides a barely paid off visitation to an Easter egg from a previous franchise instalment.

Maisie Williams as Rahne Sinclair

Sadly, it's also not much of a horror either. The elements are there but they fail to truly bring atmosphere and terrify, instead the scarier moments set a tone of a fairly generic disposable teen slasher with little blood and gore. The teens and Dr Reyes inhabit a kind of darkened grey, abandoned looking facility similar to R P. McMurphy's asylum in Kubrick's 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', where Reyes seems to be the only adult on site - even in the cafeteria Roberto doles out meals. In this instance we do feel the sense of isolation and abandonment creeping in. They spend their days wandering around misbehaving between group counselling sessions which seem to go nowhere and the teens are locked in confinement when they cause trouble, even if the solitary confinement rooms do seem identical to their own separate bedrooms. Once the strange events intensify the action really begins to ramp up, with a gang horrific smiling men stalking the halls and nightmarish hallucinations terrorising the teens. However besides Dr Reyes, who is distant but fairly amicable towards Danielle throughout the first two thirds of the film, there isn't a clearly defined villain we can boo and hiss at.

The narrative does supply a few good things - an LGBTQ friendly plot see's a romance blossom between Danielle and Rahne as it's emotional driving force and the two share a few sweet moments. Illyana's bullying of Danielle gives the central protagonist something to push against and rounds out Illyana's character as the groups alpha. Both Charlie and Roberto struggle with guilt over the catastrophes caused by their afflictive super powers in very different ways - Charlie through quiet reflection and practice and Roberto by disregard and flirtation. The performances aren't memorable but they also aren't bad considering the genre and likely demographic. I wish the same could be said for forgettable jump scares and sagging pacing of the film overall.

Director and Co-Writer Josh Boone's intention from the start was to strip away much of the trappings of a conventional super hero movie and make 'The New Mutants' a horror movie. Which is indeed what he did, albeit not a very scary horror movie or a particularly exciting super hero movie. A lot more could be desired of this flick but remembering the struggles and delays Boone, producers Simon Kinberg, Karen Rosenfelt and Lauren Shuler Donner went through to finally get this 2017 shot movie to the screen amidst a global pandemic, it's unsurprising that it felt scattered and not worth the wait. That said, Anya Taylor-Joy, who previously starred in a more well received horror, 2015's 'The Witch' gives an entertaining performance if not a little goofy at times. Maisie Williams is well cast as shy and reserved Rahne and is easily the most likeable character. But unfortunately the narrative and tone of 'The New Mutants' just isn't memorable or refined enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the other entries of the X-Men franchise and feels out of place... in the end we'll never see Reyes' shady facility or the mutants again.

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The New Mutants Trailer (2020)