I love apocalyptic-sci-fi films for one primary reason: their ability to show the impossible and unthinkable. We feel safe watching these films unfold in front of us, from our couch or on the big screen, letting our imagination run wild with thoughts of an inevitable, uncertain future ahead of us.
The latest sci-fi film, The Darkest Minds, is directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3) and is an adaptation of the first book in a series of the same name by Alexandra Bracken. It follows the story of 16-year-old Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) who lives in a world where a mysterious disease wiped out 90 per cent of America’s children. The ones who survive however, are blessed with powerful abilities that are seen as a threat to the government; as a result, they are locked up in detainment camps for their unpredictable powers.
Ruby was sent to the camp when she was 10-years-old and undergoes a test that separates each child into a colour-coded system, depending on their psionic abilities. “Greens” are regarded as safe, as they possess highly impossible intelligence; “Blues” are mildly dangerous with telekinetic powers; “Golds” can create and control electricity; “Oranges” are considered one of the most dangerous, with the ability to control minds, memories and emotions; and the “Reds” are lethal––endowed with the ability to breathe fire.
Where in this colour category does Ruby fit? Well, she is an orange. Because she has one of the most rare and threatening powers of them all, the government wants her dead (no surprises there; what’s a leading character without being in grave danger 24-7?).
Disguised as a green for six years, Ruby’s darkest secret is exposed and she escapes the camp with the help of Dr Cate Begby (Mandy Moore)—who is a part of a group fighting against the government called the Children’s League. Ruby is not sure who she can trust and abandons Begby, finding refuge with three other runaway children: Liam Stewart (Harris Dickinson), Chubs (Skylan Brooks), and Zu (Miya Cech). Banded together, their new mission turns to finding a discreet safe-haven, rumoured to be run by one of the few remaining orange kids.
So, while I enjoyed The Darkest Minds, it does fail to stand out from all the other successful young-adult-dystopian films in its genre—like The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner—just to name a few.
It sticks to the typical plot structure: the main character discovers they are special, which means they are in, or leads them to danger; which is followed by a love interest and the development of a relationship, and then eventually they save the day.
The superpower abilities the kids have are exciting (telekinesis sounds pretty damn cool … well, they all do to be honest), but all the other elements aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. This dystopian-teen-love-story was all too similar for me to be absolutely blown away; but I seem to hold higher praise than other critics, who were much harsher, as it only received a score of 19 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes. Along with this score and the fact that it underperformed at the box office (grossing just over 21 million out of its 34-million-dollar budget), it is unlikely a sequel will eventuate, despite the open ending of the film.
The Darkest Minds could have had more potential, but what prevented it from falling into a heap was the stellar acting from the main actors. Amandla Stenberg, previously seen as Rue from The Hunger Games and Everything, Everything, provides a strong and determined female lead. Her corkscrew curls and flawless complexion make us believe in her innocence, but she has a fiery heart and won’t let anything stand in her way. British actor Harris Dickinson performed a solid portrayal of the love interest for Ruby, even though at times the conversation between the two was cheesy and awkward. Giving the film a slight touch of humour was Skylan Brooks as Charles (or Chubs, if you earnt the right), dropping a heap of one-liners that caused quite a bit of laughter in the audience.
So, even though The Darkest Minds has missed out on topping the charts, it is certainly very engaging and still worth a watch. If you’re a sucker for a cute, teen love story or looking for some dystopian deja vu, then head to the cinemas and see what you think for yourself.
The Darkest Minds is in cinemas now!