Unlike, say, writing a novel, making a movie is an exercise in collaborative storytelling. One of the first things student filmmakers learn is that there’s the movie that’s written, the movie that’s shot, and the movie that’s edited. The director and actors bring their interpretation to the material, and the studio has its expectations for the final product. Given the enormity of the worldwide film industry, it's safe to say that most of the time this method of storytelling works pretty well.
But every so often we get handed a movie like The New Mutants, where everyone involved seems to be pulling in a different direction. All the necessary ingredients are there, but the whole thing feels a little thin. Because of corporate takeovers and changing tastes, what was likely intended to be an R-rated horror tie-in to the 20-year-old X-Men franchise and to be followed by many sequels of its own, well, mutated. Now it’s a stand-alone, kinda-horror movie.
After a mysterious tragedy that she can’t quite remember, Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) wakes up in a creepy school for creepy mutants. Instead of a kindly old Professor X, the school is operated by Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga), whose mutant ability is forcefields. Danielle soon meets her new classmates (inmates?), Rhane (Maisie Williams), Sam (Charlie Heaton), Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), and Roberto (Henry Zaga). While their special abilities are known, Danielle’s remains a central mystery for much of the film.
As a coming-of-age film in the gothic tradition, The New Mutants doesn’t introduce a true villain until close to the end. Sometimes this is Danielle’s story as she learns about herself (her powers and her romantic attraction to Rhane), and sometimes it’s about the other kids just being kids trapped on a dreary estate.
For whatever reason, though, the filmmakers decided to never miss an opportunity to cast religion in a poor light. On a tour of the grounds Ilyana points out the chapel and remarks, “If you believe in such things.” Though clinging to some of her religious traditions, Rhane carries literal scars she received at the hands of a cruel priest who tortured her as a witch. And the list goes on.
Thankfully, it’s a short movie. By the end the students draw together to collaborate against the opposition, though how and why is almost as disjointed as the entire movie itself. One suspects that there’s an entirely different version that will eventually be released someday, though far too late to restore any interest in the franchise. (20th Century Fox)