'The New Mutants' Review
I can’t believe I finally saw The New Mutants. After what seemed like a thousand road bumps throughout production—switching directors, slashing budgets, and the release being pushed back eighteen months from its original date due to a global pandemic—the movie that was billed as an “X-Men horror film” finally hit the big screen. Despite everything in the world being against it, and a generally negative reception from the critics, I loved it.
If that sounds biased, it's probably because it is. Part of me thought that I wouldn’t be going to a movie for another calendar year, if ever (check out my July article pondering the fate of movie theaters). Yet late Sunday night, I found myself at the Route 66 drive-in with six pieces of the best lemon pepper fried chicken in the world and a cherry Coke big enough to swim in notched into the center console. At that point, I was already feeling so in my element that I would’ve been happy to sit there and watch trailers all night. Despite all the thumbs down from critics and the atrocious scores across IMDB and Tomatoes, I was determined to enjoy The New Mutants no matter how much effort it took. When the credits finally rolled, I was surprised to find it hadn’t taken any effort at all.
The biggest indicator of a movie’s value is how well it succeeds at accomplishing what it sets out to accomplish. The New Mutants’ goal was to introduce us to a new set of characters from the X-Men Universe through a dark, teen movie-esque horror plot, and it accomplished this goal with creativity and style. If you tried to compare the movie to the others in the X-Men Universe, or judge it as a regular horror film, it would fall short. It's the kind of movie you have to take on its own terms, rather than line up next to every other similar movie.
To start, the horror aspect of the movie is entirely unique. The PG-13 rating doesn’t stop there from being some truly terrifying moments. The lack of gore and bloody violence only forces the movie to be terrifying in creative ways. One by one, it takes the characters and drags them through their traumatic pasts by making them relive their worst moments—which is scarier than any dude in a Freddy mask could ever hope to be.
They also combine this horror style with a superb utilization of the setting, which is made up of a psychiatric hospital, the grounds around it, and an old chapel (shot on the same location as Shutter Island). The use of this limited area in combination with the creative style of horror makes the setting feel much larger than it actually is. One of my favorite shots of the movie happens early on, when Charlie Heaton (Jonathan Byers from Stranger Things) re-lives one of his worst memories as he walks down a hallway in the hospital that slowly turns into the Kentucky coal mines he spent his teens working in. There’s no jump scares and no violence, yet the cinematography and acting hit me with a palpable, tense claustrophobia that was horrific in its own right.
The film is filled with genre-blending, creative horror moments like this. However, the plot isn’t exactly Shakespeare. The dialogue is often awkward and heavy, and even outright cringeworthy at times. Although it's supposed to take inspiration from John Hughes movies, there are some moments, like a certain character yelling, “I’m not scared of you, bitch,” that are so cliche that I honestly felt uncomfortable watching them.
The saving grace of the sometimes sub-par writing? The absolutely colossal amount of talent on the cast.
The five young mutants trapped in the hospital are played by Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Peaky Blinders, Emma), Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things), and the largely unknown but excellent Blu Hunt and Henry Zaga. Like I previously stated, the movie set out to accomplish two things: be a good teen horror movie, and introduce us to a new set of characters. Without this cast, they wouldn’t have come close to accomplishing either.
The characters all start out alone, consumed by their pasts—the reasons they got locked up in this prison for mutants. Yet over the course of the film, the characters grow together through shared experiences and common fears. The strongest character relationship is the romantic entanglement of Maisie Williams’ and Blu Hunt’s characters, who share some of the movie’s best dialogue while lying outside surrounded by gravestones. However, the bond between the overall group is also impossible not to fall in love with. By the end of the movie, the team gave me that warm feeling you get when watching any good sitcom friend group, like they belong together.
Even though these character relationships were some of my favorite parts of the movie, they weren’t perfect. There's some great scenes, like a Breakfast Club reminiscent party scene where the kids finally seem to let go and become comfortable with each other. Yet the credits left me wanting more. In my opinion, 90 minutes is the perfect length for a horror movie. But for a character-focused movie, it's not quite enough. These characters were so unique that I could’ve watched an hour-long episode introducing each one before they even met each other, but instead we only got a few scenes.
The New Mutants was a scary movie full of great characters, stellar acting, and a plot that refused to fit into any one genre. It was also supposed to be the first of a trilogy, which would’ve allowed us to see the character development. With the long history of production problems and negative critical reception, it doesn’t seem like those next two movies will ever get made, which is a shame. This movie took these characters from scared, lonely, angry kids and turned them into a truly off-the-wall team. I would love to see them wreak havoc in two more horror-filled sequels. Similar to Daredevil, movies like The New Mutants are what will keep Marvel from becoming stagnant and boring. If you feel safe going to your local theater, I think it's definitely worth the watch.
Northrup’s Rating: 3/5