Fox’s final hurrah into their X-men universe has been one beset by delay after delay, a post-production limbo, made even worse following the woeful Dark Phoenix. It’s a shame, as despite this film having gone through all of this, it was then finally dumped into cinema screens shortly after they reopened following lockdown. On one hand, it’s new owner Disney (at least they kept the iconic fanfare, however it is now 20th Century Studios) washing their hands of it and leaving it to clog up half empty screens. On the other, it’s one of a handful of new movies released over the last few months since cinemas reopened, so it may get a chance to receive something of a following. It’s hardly going to compete with most of the films it shares its universe with, but as a stand alone film, with this group of characters, it draws parallels to a few other classics of its type. Erring on the side of horror, at least Fox had the nerve to release some darker, gorier comic book adaptations. Its connection to the X-men movies is tenuous at best however, but it serves the film better in keeping it minimal. This is quite refreshing for these kind of films, and despite the obligatory CG fest finale, this was a welcome change to formula following the copious amount of MCU we’ve been thrust upon over the last decade.
In terms of it being a horror, it wouldn’t be considered scary, however there is an unsettling creepiness present throughout most of the film. It focuses on a facility used to try and help young people who are developing mutant powers. Although it’s not actually confirmed by the powers that be, the teens and young adults at the facility believe this to be a gateway to professor Xavier’s school for gifted children. One of the new youngsters with ambiguous powers is Danielle (Blu Hunt). She’s there with a handful of other mutants coming to terms with their abilities and trying to control it. The character arcs are pretty standard by this point, some are less inclined than others to share, but we eventually find out what their gift is and why they are there. Some are more unsettling than others. Particularly Anya Taylor-Joy’s Illyana. She had a particularly abhorrent upbringing. Her character is initially rather irritating, in a way that is beyond rebellious, towards just being generally horrible. However, as we are made aware of her plight and as she warms to the other mutants, she gradually steals the show, and near enough makes the finale her own. Despite her show stopping performance, there’s a good turn by a few of the other cast members too. A romantic sub-plot with some great chemistry between Danielle and Rahne (Maisie Williams) which works beautifully, although it is apparent from the moment they meet what’s going to happen, as the foreshadowing is as heavy handed as The Juggernaut knocking on the door.
The children are literally haunted by their pasts for a good part of the film, with the manifestations of their fear and guilt becoming real as one of their abilities seems to amplify their most terrible memories. The Smiling Man being the closest to perhaps an iconic monster here, as it is genuinely creepy, but perhaps borrows a little too much from other faceless horror villains we’ve seen before. The New Mutants wears its inspirations on its sleeve, as you can draw obvious similarities to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Joe Dante’s The Hole, and even The Breakfast Club. Heck, there’s even echoes of Life is Strange here, and that is never a bad thing. And whilst all of those films are cult classics in their own right, The New Mutants doesn’t quite stick the landing as well as its influences. This is probably in no small part down to its finale. Despite it being fairly decent, it’s another comic book movie awash with CGI nemeses, leaving it a little lacking when it comes to a satisfying ending. One of its other plus points is the lean and breezy running time. Whilst most superhero movies have two hour plus lengths, this comes in at just over the magical 90 minute mark, not wasting any of the screen time it is afforded. Whilst it won’t be wowing any fans of either genre, it will likely amass a cult following once it hits the streaming sites, or through those that gave it a chance because there wasn’t really anything else to watch at the pictures. For all its post production misery, the finished product isn’t half bad.