Starring Amandla Stenberg and Harris Dickinson, The Darkest Minds is yet another dystopian film in a long line of YA book remakes. Following Divergent and The Hunger Games, also YA remakes, The Darkest Minds simply isn’t up to par. Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson seems far out of her comfort zone, as the film is messy, cringeworthy and simply too boring to enjoy.
Six years ago, an epidemic swept through (the world? America? The film doesn’t deign to inform its viewers) the land. Those who didn’t die discovered new powers.
Their abilities are organised according to colour, from red to blue. These children are held by the government in military camps for an indefinite period. In particular, Reds and Oranges are hunted down and killed, deemed too dangerous to live. Sixteen-year-old Ruby, our protagonist, is a mind-controlling Orange and has managed to stay under the radar by controlling her supervisors.
When she escapes and meets fellow runaways Liam, Zu and Chubs, the story follows their attempts to find sanctuary.
The real fault of the film lies not in the acting, but the script – awkward dialogue, out-of-place narration and strangely-paced scenes make for an unbalanced film and multiple cringeworthy moments. The first 30 minutes are promising, with plenty of action and tense moments, but it quickly devolves into a typical YA movie, rife with clichés. An awkward dance scene – perhaps an attempt to simulate a high school prom dance? – between Ruby and her love interest, Liam, is difficult to watch without eye-rolling.
The film is also too fast-paced, with Ruby and Zu – an adorable little girl played by Miya Cech – bonding immediately, and Ruby and Liam instantaneously falling in love. Narration by the protagonist also feels strangely placed, with odd references to books halfway through and at the end.
The actors do well with the meagre script, though Stenberg and Dickinson have no chemistry at all. The emotion between the two seems forced and unrealistic, but more annoyingly, towards the end, their relationship takes centre stage rather than the action between the children and their captors.
Skylan Brooks does his best, but Chubs is mere one-dimensional comedic relief. Cech is the real star here, endearing viewers to the character despite having no audible lines whatsoever.
The surprising twist at the end isn’t enough to save the film, though it is a refreshing change from the expected. It is just too difficult to become invested in the characters.