Ah, yes. Another entry in the endless series of young-adult fantasy tales adapted to the screen. Despite not being a gigantic fan of this sub-genre of film (outside of the oddball gem, of course), this reviewer is not entirely closed off to the idea of a YA adaptation that succeeds on more levels than that of momentarily pleasing its target audience.
Synopsis: When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby, one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future. (20th Century Fox)
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, and Gwendoline Christie
Writer: Chad Hodge
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 105mins
Going in only aware of the slowly vanishing lead character on the film’s quietly exuberant promotional poster. It turns out, that the poster breathes more life and creativity than anything else involved in the craftsmanship here, in front of or behind the scenes. At least the film doesn’t force itself to be any longer than it needs to be. The usual YA trend is to follow an exposition-filled formula that leads the overall narrative to clock in at over two hours. The Darkest Minds, however, possess a running time of 95 minutes, not including credits. As you will see, this isn’t necessarily a positive.
The film achieves this short running time by squeezing in minimal development before launching us head first into a world that doesn’t have the realism it needs to do justice to its incredibly dark tone. This is demographic pandering at its absolute worst, topped off with an uninspired story that strictly exists to create a love subplot for young teenagers to stare in awe at. Although, being honest, teenagers could most definitely see through this transparent dumpster fire.
Hodge approaches his first crack at screenwriting with a misguided energy that mostly resides in the deepest corner of Lifetime’s original efforts. Our characters stumble around this all too familiar and frequently impossible narrative (it remains this way even when attempting to get behind the absurd world established) with endless conveniences. Our lead protagonist, Ruby (Stenberg), is granted with mind control-esque powers. These powers only lead to unintentionally crafting some of the lowest stakes in a film so far this year. Stenberg does an alright job at portraying a confused adolescent having to deal with a threatening power she never wanted. It’s just a shame that everyone else around her seems to phone it in and mumbling their way to their respective paychecks.
There might be some hidden beauty or slight redemption found when exploring such dark subject matters such as morally justified (in the context of the film) child slavery and murder. Unfortunately, the visual manifestation of requited hatred and violence between separate age ranges is just a segway for topics that are far more un-interesting than those we are initially presented with. This should’ve been a more climactic battle cry, or at least a thesis statement for a morally involving tale, but the whole film just leaves you almost entirely blinded, shell-shocked if you will, by what you have just witnessed on screen. This was easily the most soulless, studio-headed, contrived and pointless big-budget film 2018 has yet to offer us. We are truly at the fate of Hollywood and whatever they decide to dump on us next.