‘A rinse-and-repeat series of clichés from a dying genre’
The Darkest Minds, 2018
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie
For as much love as I the Harry Potter franchise, it unfortunately must be the sole area of blame for the Young Adult (YA) genre’s direction in the two-decades-plus since, and that is by placing the children of Hogwarts into separate groups. Since then The Hunger Games used districts, Divergent used factions and The Darkest Minds uses colours. I understand why this genre is insistent on having these separated groups but it just makes for a repetitive trope that doesn’t benefit the film. The children in The Darkest Minds live by this colour assigned to them by a government (a colour scheme designed to alert anyone to the severity of their danger), yet at no point during the film do the characters try to stand up for any form of equality or reject the mere notion of having these arbitrary assignments.
The Darkest Minds is the latest YA adaptation to hit the big screen, albeit this time from a much more obscure series (a five-series books by Alexandra Bracken), whereby children are plagued by a mysterious disease/illness/whatever that opens up powers within them (those that live, anyway, as 90% of the children are killed almost immediately as they are unable to sustain their new powers), powers ranging on a colour scale from green (simply gifted with vast intelligence) to red (extremely dangerous) passing through blue, gold and orange in the chain. Our hero, Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), is orange and her power is to control minds through touch, and she is soon broken out of a military camp created to control the children in an effort to help free those left behind.
The film opened up with a lot of promise as the scene with the first girl dying is quite dramatic, as is the news reports of all the other sudden deaths by children. However, that tone is shifted soon enough as the checklist of YA clichés are soon found: a love interest, a comedic character, a villain who betrays them and so on. It is quite disappointing to go from this shocking moment followed by a war-camp-like prison to four teenagers joking around and dressing up and driving through an abandoned shopping mall and having fun despite the nationwide (I’m assuming nationwide but it’s never stated whether it’s state-wide, nationwide or even international) crisis that’s upon them and how they’re likely to be shot simply by being seen.
It’s also another film whereby characters go on the run and encounter problem after problem in their fight for survival which is quite lacklustre in its own nature because it slows and speeds up scenes in a strange order. And in one of those sped-up moments is a car chase from a rogue assailant on the hunt for escapees, and it’s one of the worst car chases I’ve seen recently. It uses that awful visual effect of quick cut scenes and it seems to be as if, as some points, the scenes are in a bit of a strange order as one minute the cars are side-by-side and the next one’s in front. Mostly, though, the visuals aren’t too bad; the memory flashback scenes are vivid and integrated well as is the final fight scene when we finally see the red-clan enter the film. And the film has, for the most part, a solid cast of young actors. None of them particularly made a standout performance but none of them were terrible. They were just hampered quite a lot by the film’s inconsistent pacing, a genre-defining list of must-haves only slightly younger than my 27-years and the obvious desire to make a film to begin the franchise rather than making a good film (which affected The Mummy when that tried to kickstart the Dark Universe instead of making a solid film to get people invested). If you check it out you may find some enjoyment (the emotional scene towards the end was a highlight for me) but if you miss out on it then you haven’t really missed anything as it is snippets from every YA novel-to-film adaptation you’ve ever seen: from children separated by arbitrary systems to a rebellion against a government. A rinse-and-repeat series of clichés from a dying genre.