The Darkest Minds

 

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Jennifer Yuh Nelson's live-action debut is just what we don’t need: another dystopian romance. Think X-Kids with a Nicholas Sparks spin.

 

Darkest Minds

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind: Harris Dickinson and Amandla Stenberg

 

If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. We’re talking about a virus that, in the near future, wipes out ninety per cent of America’s children and teenagers. However, the remaining ten per cent find themselves endowed with superpowers beyond their wildest imagination. It’s X-Kids with a Nicholas Sparks gloss, a brand-new franchise based on the young adult fiction of Alexandra Bracken, being another cog in the rotating wheel of romantic dystopia or, for the purposes of this review, dys-rom.

 

The film opens with a schoolgirl suffering from some kind of seizure, before dying on the classroom floor. Nice. A month later, so our narrator tells us, “half my class was dead.” She is Ruby Daly, a pretty, bright eight-year-old of mixed heritage, albeit lighter skinned than either of her parents. Six years later, Ruby is played by Amandla Stenberg – best known for her role as Rue in another dys-rom, The Hunger Games (2012) – and she’s been biding her time in an internment camp. The surviving young are kept under a beady eye by the government, who has sorted them into categories based on the potency of their powers (à la the kids in the Divergent series). Here, the least threatening are branded ‘green’ (for those with exceptional intelligence) all the way up to ‘red’, the most dangerous, who can burn down your house with a belligerent glare. Ruby can manipulate the minds of her oppressors, so she’s an ‘orange’ and, like the ‘reds’, is earmarked for instant extermination. But because Ruby can manipulate the minds of her oppressors, she convinces them that she’s a ‘green’ and so escapes her fate. Clever girl. Well, obviously. Then she’s rescued by a bleeding heart played by Mandy Moore and the story really starts.

 

The Darkest Minds marks the live-action debut of the South Korean-born Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who directed Kung Fu Panda 2 and co-directed Kung Fu Panda 3 and so is a hot commodity in Hollywood. One might have wished, then, for a less conventional hand on this material, which already feels homogeneous. But, alas, the action is punctuated by bland pop songs and way too many streaks of redundant sunbeams, which reduces the dramatis personae to stock characters in a feature-length Mountain Warehouse commercial.

 

The romantic interest is supplied by the London-born Harris Dickinson (Beach Rats), who has a good face for villainy, while the angelic, Irish-born Patrick Gibson plays a survivor we maybe shouldn’t trust. The film’s casting director actually should reap the most kudos, as it’s seldom we see a central protagonist who is neither skinny nor white (although the stars of dys-roms are invariably female). There are also some intriguing narrative threads dealing with identity and memory, although these are ultimately lost in the soap operatic dynamics. And the film’s funniest line is surely unintentional: “You’re not an orange. We’re not the same.”

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford, Harris Dickinson, Patrick Gibson, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Gwendoline Christie, Wade Williams, Mark O'Brien, Wallace Langham, Golden Brooks, Sammi Rotibi.

 

Dir Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Pro Shawn Levy and Dan Levine, Screenplay Chad Hodge, Ph Kramer Morgenthau, Pro Des Russell Barnes, Ed Maryann Brandon and Dean Zimmerman, Music Benjamin Wallfisch, Costumes Mary Claire Hannan.

 

21 Laps Entertainment-20th Century Fox

103 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 10 August 2018. Cert. 12A.