The New Mutants (3 stars)

The New Mutants

Young superbeings struggle with their powers and each other in Josh Boone's horror-inspired fantasy

Fear fuels this slightly unusual take on super-heroics, the 13th and apparently final instalment in the X-Men film series, which is finally hitting screens after two-years of delays and which distinguishes itself from the rest of the franchise by keeping things largely creepy and contained. Working with co-screenwriter (and childhood pal) Knate Lee, writer-director Josh Boone delivers a heightened, horror-infused coming-of-ager, where budding supernatural prowess and past traumas trigger some serious adolescent angst.

Although ostensibly a facility for emerging mutants, the setting is the kind of dilapidated hospital complex which rings major alarm bells. Our Native American protagonist Dani (Blu Hunt) is the sole survivor of a terrible, unexplained tragedy that's glimpsed at the outset, but dismissed by Dr Reyes (Brazilian actress Alice Braga, from City of God and Lower City) as the work of a tornado. In a support group, Dani meets fellow inmates Rahne (Maisie Williams), Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), Sam (Charlie Heaton) and Roberto (Henry Zaga), who vary wildly in their friendliness, before things get pretty hair-raising for them all.

The horrific potential of super powers has been explored before, but rarely in an actually frightening way – last year's Brightburn being a rare and not particularly successful exception – and, with its play on teens-in-peril and asylum flicks, the set-up in The New Mutants is promising; there's the germ of a genuinely good idea here. But Boone doesn't do suspense or pack in enough scares (presumably he was constrained by the need to deliver a PG-13; here it's a 15, but a rather tame one) and the film's occasional over-earnestness ties it unwelcomely to his previous effort, the weepy The Fault in our Stars.

If clips from TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer serve to remind us how much this ensemble film suffers by such comparisons, there are flickers of properly sinister stuff, not least in the form of a child abuse backstory, while there's a lesbian romance that feels like progress. The cast are well selected – you can't go far wrong with Williams and Taylor-Joy – and, with the gender balance skewing in favour of the females, The New Mutants represents a refreshing shift. Things may start a little sluggishly but the film does build in ferocity, identity and interest, and those who have missed their hits of big budget spectacle should find it enough of a fix.

Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 4 Sep.

The New Mutants

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 34min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Josh Boone
  • Cast: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga
  • UK release: 4 September 2020

The X-Men story comes to a close with this tale of young mutants.