*Spoilers for The Darkest Mind ahead.*
A YA dystopian/post-apocalyptic teenage melodrama adaptation that is somehow dark and campy at the same time? What a fresh, original, and innovative concept for a film… if it was 2012 and the market was not over saturated by the genre. I was really hoping that with abysmal showings of 2015’s Divergent: Insurgent (domestic gross of just over 130 million – placing it 444th of all time in domestic gross) and 2018’s Maze Runner: The Death Cure (58 million/1,392nd) the YA genre would stop being produced. But, much to my chagrin, this was not the case. Hollywood is pumping out another trilogy, and by doing so, beating a dead horse.
6 years of YA films brings to mind many similarities with the filmic style of Hollywood’s Golden Age: the Classical Studio Era. It can be argued that the YA dystopian film is a sort of filmic style. The majority have a protagonist (usually female) that is somehow special (think Tris in the Divergent franchise, Katniss in Hunger Games, Percy Jackson in Percy Jackson and the Olympians), surrounding themselves with a core group of characters that somehow have no personality or are simply one-dimensional, adult villains, rebel factions that cannot be trusted, romance etc… The tropes are there, and the directors use them as crutches. With little effort, the audience can tell what will happen or see a plot twist miles away. Studios produce these movies, and they make their millions because there will always been a teenage market. Repeat. To them, it does not matter if the movies are good or bad, what matters is that at the end of the day, there is a finished product for the masses to consume. It is in this sense that the similarities between the YA mode and the Classical mode overlap.
As François Truffaut said: “we love the American cinema because the films all resemble each other”. This quote perfectly describes the assembly line resemblance of films in the classical era. The formal elements of a classic film are rooted in the narrative rather than the stylistic, by foregrounding characters and revealing their psychology (in hopes of highlighting the linear causality/motivation) through dialogue, motifs of action and props, clear motives, music and sound effects. Other elements such as camera movement, centering characters in the shot, and editing (that allows the viewers to follow the action and show them what is significant in the shot) also help further heighten narrative comprehension. All of this, and much more, is done to make the narrative comprehensive and unambiguous. Thus, the classical film “rests upon particular assumptions about narrative structure, cinematic style, and spectatorial activity… [n]arrative form motivates cinematic representation… [and] causal-effect logic and narrative parallelism generate a narrative which projects its actions through psychologically-defined, goal oriented characters”.
As mentioned above, the YA adaptations use very similar elements that the Classical mode used over 50 years ago. These films are produced at a high rate and are essentially uniform. Plot aside, actually no, even the plots for most YA are very similar, YA films use filmic elements to highlight the narrative above all else and provide the audience with psychologically-defined and goal driven characters. In other words, YA adaptations are cookie cutter movies that are made for a key demographic and are intrinsically worthless as a film.
Now, the actual movie itself… I feel bad I wrote such bad things about Skyscraper. Compared to The Darkest Minds, Skyscraper is actually A GOOD movie. There is almost nothing positive I can say about this movie. Casting diversity maybe? Female lead? Social commentary on the controversy regarding Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy via separation of children? Sure, that’s all good and PC/woke but what really matters is the quality of the film. Which was poor. Tragic. The best part of the whole movie was when the credits came on. Even the generic pop music was substandard on the 20 or so tracking shots of the gang travelling.
Basically, the director took every single possible trope of the YA films and just packed it right in. A girl with special abilities far beyond anyone else has to be kept hidden because she’ll be killed. BUT by some miracle (or plot device) she escapes and is headed to safety but her saviour is emitting some real mysterious vibes so at the first chance she RUNS away and finds a group of kids conveniently at the very same location. They go on a search for a promised safe-haven but soon discover that the place is not what it seems. Everything goes to shit, one of them is seriously (not so seriously) injured forcing our protagonist to use a tracking beacon given to her by her saviour (Legion) to get her friend to a hospital. Some other stuff happens, setting up the next movie and credits. Reading the above paragraph, how many YA novels/movies had similar events? All of them? Wow… did not expect that.
Now, let us get into the gritty. The CGI was even worse than whatever the guys (girls/people, non-gender binary etc…) over at DC used in Justice League. Any action sequence or fire looked like my grade 8 school musical (I was Gaston in the production). Every time the characters used their powers, their eyes would glow a certain colour and it was just painful to watch.
Speaking of characters, the acting was even more painful. Monotone deliveries, no emotions behind ANYTHING. The chemistry between the cast relied mostly on the backing music to set the mood/tone of their relationship. The two lead character’s romance was more forced than… well… telling two teenagers to fall in love. The characters were not characters, they were walking talking archetypes. Every single character (except for Mandy Moore, she is amazing), was just sub-par. The teen characters acted like spoiled babies whilst the adults acted like children. The awful dialogue didn’t help AT ALL. The 8 people who were at the screening groaned and laughed at the poor display of writing. I mean, you could have convinced me actual teenagers wrote this movie.
Not only was the CGI, dialogue, and acting horrid, the plot/story itself made no sense. All of a sudden, the majority of American humans under 18 die and the ones that survived get super powers. The survivors are rounded up into jails/camps and the economy collapses. After the exposition at the very beginning, that is all we hear. I spent the whole movie thinking about stuff like:
- What was the reaction to parents/psychology around the incident?
- If people have babies, do they get sent to the camps right away?
- How could the government impose a law that is unconstitutional?
- It shows the president decreeing but there is the whole process of checks and balances and the supreme court…
- Why only America?
- Why didn’t the survivours flee north or south of the border?
- The president is in a padded cell for 6 years, then how did he win his reelection?
- Should I leave this movie? The MLS all-star game is on… Juve won on penalties 5-3 by the way… if anyone is reading this/cares.
Before I end this review, I just want to say that I do not HATE every single YA movie. I actually enjoy a few of them such as:
- Harry Potter (not really sure if it is a YA but technically it is a novel for young adults that has been adapted into a movie)
- Prisoner of Azkaban is the best HP. End of discussion (unless you want to comment below)
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- Twilight (all of them, yes, even the books).
- Hunger Games (pt.1).
I understand that these movies are targeting a certain demographic, but they can be done well. This one, however, was not done well.
Rating – 1.5/10
This movie brings nothing new to the YA genre, just another generic movie churned out. Weak story, poor cast, and too dependent on classic YA tropes.