This film adaptation of a bestselling YA series is predictable
Set in a world vaguely similar to ours — except for the kids having supernatural powers — The Darkest Minds is the latest in a recent run of films based on popular YA book series. Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda, Kung Fu Panda 2), the movie starts off with worldbuilding as Ruby (Amandla Stenberg, The Hunger Games, Everything Everything) narrates. Kids and teens start showing signs of a disorder (nicknamed I.A.A.N.) which leaves them with different levels of powers that adults categorize with colors.
As a ten-year-old, Ruby is removed from her family home to a camp of dark warehouses and chainlink fencing; anyone who has kept up with recent news will note similarities to scenes from current-day immigration detention centers. She convinces a doctor to assign her a lower category of power, and six years later escapes from the camp with help from Dr. Mandy Moore. She ends up on the run with a trio of other young escapees: probable love interest Liam (Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats), adorable and silent Zu (Miya Cech), and brainy Chubs (Skylan Brooks, The Get Down).
The plot becomes so obvious that there’s little mystery. Once Ruby meets Liam, the viewer knows that the two will become romantically involved (although, unfortunately, the two actors share little chemistry). Two thirds of the way through the film, something that seems too good to be true turns out to be just that. Given the predictability of the script (adapted by Chad Hodge, Good Behavior) and the cliched generic pop songs which are tossed throughout, there are few surprises here.
Stenberg and Brooks are the bright spots in The Darkest Minds. Stenberg well conveys Ruby’s doubts and uncertainty, which grow into better awareness of her strength after training with an older teen who shares her level of power. As Chubs, Brooks is resistant to Ruby joining their pilgrimage, but is won over. The most endearing moments of the film are the scenes these two actors share.
I hoped for more from Yuh Nelson’s live action directorial debut, but The Darkest Minds plays like something we’ve seen before. The inclusive cast is a welcome change for this genre, but the actors are limited by the lackluster writing.
The Darkest Minds opened nationwide over the weekend.