THE DARKEST MINDS
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Screenwriter: Chad Hodge, based on the eponymous novel by Alexandra Bracken
Runtime: 104 mins.
Australian release date: 16 August 2018
Previewed at: Hoyts Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, Sydney, on 12 August 2018.
The Darkest Minds is the first book of Alexandra Bracken’s Young Adult literature trilogy to hit the screens and it may be the last. Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, known for her work on Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3, this dystopian tale is geared towards a tweens and teens audience although, at one point one of the characters blows his head off, which may be a tad extreme for younger viewers. Still, the tweens in the preview audience didn’t seem overly fazed as the action was mainly off camera and the film does come with an M rating. There is also a huge fan base, judging by the applause generated by the appearance of Amandla Stenberg, who plays Ruby, the main character in the film, so I guess many will know what to expect.
Entering a near-future world where over 90% of the children’s population has been annihilated by a disease called IAAN (Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration), we discover that the survivors have been left with super-normal powers that have put the fear of god into the adults. The older generation, scared that they can no longer control their offspring, round up the remaining kids and put them into prison camps so they can determine where they fit on the powers scale. It turns out that those labelled green are on the bottom level, followed by blue and gold, all of which are deemed acceptable, but those graded red or orange are to be exterminated because they have the ability to project lethal destruction through fire or manipulate the minds of others. Ruby is an ‘orange’, the top of the spectrum, but when she winds up in an internment camp she is able to successfully pass for a ‘green’ for some years, until the day comes when the charade is uncovered and she has to escape to survive. At first she is helped by some adults, including Cate (Mandy Moore), but she soon aligns with a small group of renegade teenagers attempting to reach a secret location run by the ‘Slip Kid’ (Patrick Gibson), where they can exist with like-minded others and create a new world. Ruby’s young allies are ‘Zu’ (Miya Cech), a young Asian girl who barely speaks, ‘Chubs’ (Skylan Brooks), a super-intelligent African-American kid, and Liam (Harris Dickinson), the unofficial leader of the group with whom Ruby develops a romantic attraction. The friends look out for each other and collaborate in working out how to survive while keeping the bounty hunter Lady Jane (Gwendoline Christie) at bay. Ruby is able to use her psychic powers to help them reach the ‘Slip Kid’s’ hidden headquarters but soon begins to wonder if all is as it seems.
There are some pretty spectacular scenes in the film, especially a highly kinetic one in which a helicopter crashes and Ruby has to run for her life, but it all feels a bit stale because we’ve been in this territory before; it’s all too familiar and has been done better elsewhere - inevitably it will be compared to the likes of The Hunger Games films and will suffer for it, deservedly so. However, it will be interesting to view the next title (if it gets up) and make a judgement then. Suffice to say, although The Darkest Minds is not particularly riveting, the overall action sequences and the performances are competent enough and, if the audience reaction at the preview screening is anything to go by, there are plenty of fans of the books that will be hankering for the next instalment. Certainly, Amandla Stenberg has a solid career ahead of her. She’s the best thing about this latest addition to the YA universe.