A solid cast and a good premise couldn’t stop this film from failing hard.
Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) is orphaned when her Cheyenne reservation is seemingly destroyed by a tornado. She wakes up in a hospital under the care of Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga), who informs Dani that she is a mutant and that she is to remain in the hospital until she learns to control her abilities, whatever they are. The facility has four other teenagers who also have superpowers: Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), who can turn himself into a human cannonball; Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), who has powers that mimic magic; Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), who is functionally a werewolf; and Bobby da Costa (Henry Zaga), a mutant who can manipulate solar power. All of them are orphans and all have tragic backstories related to their powers. However, soon things begin to happen around the facility that are weird even for mutants. It turns out that the facility may not be the hospital it seems, nor are all of the people in it.
I find it almost impressive that this movie failed this badly, because it seems like it has everything going for it. The premise of “what if we had a horror movie that involved superheroes” has been tried before, with Split being an example of superpowers making a horror trope better, but this one was basically pitched as “haunted school, but the haunting is a reality warper out of control.” That’s such a fun way to revitalize an old trope, particularly by adding in that the teen victims all have their own superpowers, so you could put them in even greater mortal danger and it would be survivable. The idea of a superteam forming in that situation for future films seems easily workable. All of this shows signs of almost inevitable success. Instead, we get a movie that clearly never knew what it wanted to be made by people who didn’t know what they were supposed to be in.
Looking into it, this film’s faults don’t seem to be entirely on director Josh Boone. Apparently he and writer Knate Lee had envisioned this as being a full-on horror film, but were told by the studio to tone it down into more of a young adult film. Then, after the success of IT, they were told to go and reshoot it into MORE of a horror film, but still not the hard R or very borderline PG-13 film that Boone had originally wanted. If I hadn’t found out this was the case, I would have assumed something like this had happened. The film seems like it constantly is fighting against itself.
It doesn’t help that the film starts with a voiceover narration of the “two wolves” story that everyone knows already, but with bears instead of wolves. They don’t finish the parable until the very end of the movie, but since you already know what it ends with, there’s not much of a surprise or a win in the reveal. Similarly, there’s not much of a big win when we see the New Mutants finally start to fight because we always knew that’s what would happen and nothing about the sequence sets it apart. Also, we weirdly have almost no investment in the characters, despite the fact that they’re all mutant kids with tragic backstories and mental issues that should make them perfect for this kind of movie, but we never really get the connection.
It’s also incredible that one of my notes is “most of them seem uninterested” about the actors, because these are all very good performers with decent material to work with. Maisie Williams plays a girl whose powers and sexual orientation conflict with her religious upbringing. Anya Taylor-Joy plays a victim of child trafficking whose only friend is a purple dragon. These are two great performers who could absolutely bring these characters to life, but it feels like they never knew what they were supposed to be going for in any scene. Maybe that’s because the director didn’t know either.
Overall, this movie should have been a hit, but it just fell flat.
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