I will give “The New Mutants” director Josh Boone a couple of points for attempting to push the limits of what an X-Men movie can be. The spin-off of the Marvel comics, now playing in theatres, isn’t about saving the planet or battling little green beings from outer space.
Boone mixes and matches the superheroes with psychological horror, placing people with extraordinary powers battling their own, earthbound demons. It’s a genre film, but not a memorable one. In this case, you can’t spell “generic” without “genre.”
The story centers around Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), an indigenous teen whose entire reservation was wiped off the face of the earth by… something. For some reason she survives, only to find herself chained to a hospital bed in a mysterious facility. Enter Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga), a kindly (or is she?) physician who unchains Dani and explains the situation to her. “You’re in a safe place,” the good (once again, is she?) doctor says. “Nothing can hurt you here.”
Soon she is introduced to the other inmates… er… patients. There’s Russian meanie Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a mutant who can teleport and slice people to bits with an arm that morphs into a sword. Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams) is part human, part werewolf and can smell trouble from a mile away, while hunky Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga) is so hot he will occasionally burst into flames. Completing the line-up is Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), a southerner whose slowed down drawl hides the fact that he’s gifted with thermo-chemical energy propulsion that would make Usain Bolt look like a slow poke.
As young adults they are new to their powers, attending therapy sessions with Dr. Reyes to learn how to control their abilities.
How does Dani fit in? What are her powers? That’s what Reyes wants to find out. What will she do with that information? “This isn’t a hospital,” warns Illyana. “It’s a cage and you’re trapped in here forever.”
“The New Mutants” then becomes a guessing game as strange things start happening. Bad dreams terrorize Dani’s fellow mutants, each reliving a terrible, formative moment in their development. “We’re trapped in here with demons!” Roberto shrieks.
Boone conjures up some eerie imagery. Illyana’s slender-man wannabe ghouls are unsettling, but the idea of the manifestation of the character’s fears has been done before and done better in movies like “It.”
Eventually “The New Mutants” biodegrades into a computer-generated slog as the movie approaches the end of its 90-minute running time. Whatever character work the cast, who are actually quite good, have done to involve the viewer is undone by a series of loud episodes that favor empty spectacle over humanity.