MOVIE REVIEW: Damned by dystopian deja vu
THE DARKEST MINDS
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Starring: Amandla Stenberg (pictured), Gwendoline Christie, Harris Dickinson
Running time: 104 minutes
TERMINAL illness, suicide, foreign invasion, bloodthirsty dictatorships, government-sanctioned child abuse … young adult literature isn't afraid to tackle difficult subject matter. This may well reflect the intensity of audience members' own personal experience as they grapple with complex issues of identity, agency and self-determination.
It has certainly provided film and TV directors with a rich and fertile body of work to draw from, in a string of meaty dramas that include The Hunger Games, Tomorrow When the War Began, The Fault in Our Stars and 13 Reasons Why.
Based on Alexandra Bracken's novel, The Darkest Minds isn't in the same league. But it's thematically interesting: having plundered the planet, Baby Boomers have every reason to fear the next generation. And the film's central character, played by rising star Amandla Stenberg, might be further developed in a sequel.
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, best known for her work on the animated Kung Fu Panda franchise, the sci-fi drama is set in a futuristic world where a pandemic has decimated the child population. When the children who survive develop superhuman abilities, the government declares them a threat and incarcerates them in internment camps until they can be "cured".
There, the survivors are graded according to the strength of their powers. The exceptionally gifted, such as Ruby Daly (Stenberg, who played Rue in The Hunger Games), are terminated on the spot. Having managed to avoid such a fate with the help of some psychic trickery, the nascent heroine fades into the background the best she can - until the authorities eventually force her hand.
Breaking out of the pitiless prison, Ruby joins forces with a bunch of similarly resourceful rebels - Skylan Brooks' superbrain, Miya Cech's electrical conductor and Harris Dickinson's teenage Uri Geller - to join up with an underground resistance movement.
Gwendoline Christie's hard-ass bounty hunter pursues them relentlessly.
During the course of her journey, Ruby comes to terms with her formidable new powers in a fairly predictable narrative of self-empowerment. But she also discovers the sacrifices that must be made by a young woman committed to a seemingly impossible cause.
The critical consensus surrounding The Darkest Minds is that it suffers from a debilitating case of dystopian deja vu, but the bridge-burning final act piqued this reviewer's interest in terms of what Stenberg's character might do next. It's a pity, given the film's lacklustre performance at the US box office, that we are unlikely to ever find out.