There’s a sense of surrealism when the lights go down in the auditorium and the BBFC card comes up for The New Mutants – it was supposed to release in April 2018, after all. Now, Josh Boone’s X-Men horror film has had so many delays and complications that I was inclined to believe it would never come out. Maybe it didn’t even exist. But it’s finally happening for real this time… Sadly, it wasn’t worth the wait.
Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) experiences a horrific tragedy when her family are completely wiped out by a freak of nature incident. The sole survivor, Dani wakes up in a facility in the middle of the nowhere; she’s assured by Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga) that it’s a hospital. Yet it’s clearly far from ordinary, with only a handful of patients – Ilyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy); Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams); Roberto de Costa (Henry Zaga), and Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton) – all displaying signs of mutant abilities. While Dani struggles to figure out her powers, the group is also being haunted by their greatest fears.
So the stage is set for Boone and co-writer Knate Lee’s take on the superhero formula; a take that, we’ve been promised, will incorporate horror elements into the world of the X-Men. And The New Mutants certainly has all the right ingredients to be a breath of fresh air in an otherwise overdone genre – especially following Dark Phoenix. The issue, however, is that Boone doesn’t really know what he wants his film to be. Despite a 15 rating, the “horror” is diluted to forgettable scares with no sense of tension or dread. The creepiest the film ever gets is in its use of the Smiley Men – think Slender-Man but with daggers for teeth and no eyes – but even they’re introduced only to be dismissed about five minutes later. Then there’s the YA aspect of the story with Boone leaning into his The Fault in Our Stars roots and channeling The Breakfast Club, but the script is too one-dimensional to make that work either.
The result is a film that has its hands in too many cookie jars. The New Mutants is torn between horror and young-adult but it doesn’t lean into either enough. The scares are tacky and laughable while the tween drama is cringe-worthy; not only is the script devoid of characterisation, the acting is so wooden that we couldn’t care less for the lives of these people or their friendships. That being said, the cast is still the best thing that the film has to offer. While the accents are bad and the dialogue is awful, there’s something very enjoyable about seeing this usually great cast having a bit of fun with the material. They have screen presence in spades, but that’s partly because by this point, they’re so well-established. At least Boone tried to do something. While it didn’t work, The New Mutants is many things – bland, dull, boring – but at least generic is not one of them.
The New Mutants is out September 4th.