Oh no, not another teen movie.
So, there was a decision to be made again last night, but one made from a pretty mediocre movie line-up… this flick or Statham in the truly dreadful-looking “The Meg”. (You can really tell we are getting to the runt end of the summer season). In the end, I plumped for this one. (Not that it bothered my wife: she split again to go and see “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again“… for the FOURTH time. This movie really is like crack cocaine for women of a certain age!).
I made this choice mostly because it looked a little like a cross between “Midnight Special” (which I liked) and “The Girl With All The Gifts” (which I loved: my number 2 film of 2016!). In the end, while it does have some similarities with these films, it is far more in the style of “Allegiant” or – even more so – “The 5th Wave“: a film aimed squarely at a mid to late teen “Twilight”-style audience.
Unlike “The Girl With All The Gifts“, which begins with a delicious lack of exposition, this film positively has exposition diarrhoea! A voice-over from our heroine Ruby over scenes of her pre-teen life (acted by Lidya Jewett) pummels the viewer with information that sets up most of the plot within the first three minutes. It’s the movie equivalent of a quick wash cycle with 1200 rpm spin. Not that this is ineffective… it is just a very different approach.
Without troubling with any sort of scientific plausibility, the world has been stricken with a disease that kills 90% of the world’s children: a fairly traumatic premise to be sure. The only children left behind are those now exhibiting various levels of supernatural power: classed as between “green” (brainy but harmless) through to “red” (fire-breathing s***-yourself-stupid-if-you-end-up-in-the-same-room-as-them beings). Some I know might class all teens by definition as “red” but I couldn’t possibly comment.
Ruby (now as a teen and played by Amandla Stenberg) is an “orange” (= #badass) hiding in green clothing. Caught between the extermination goals of an ‘evil’ president (Bradley Whitford) and the possibly nefarious goals of a freedom fighting group – the “Children’s League” – Ruby bands together with three other teens in a road trip to try to find a mystery figure called the “Slip Kid” who rules over a ‘promised land’ for teens (where they presumably ARE left to lie in bed until lunchtime!). It’s a journey that will bring danger, love and heartache for the mis-matched ‘family unit’.
From the first fifteen minutes, I thought this film was going to be better than it ended up. A ‘kids’ film with a memorable emotional jolt was 1986’s “Flight of the Navigator” where young Joey goes for a play in the woods and comes back to his house to find his parents gone and different people living there. This film has an unexpected jolt of similar proportions. But it then – unfortunately – settles down into much more familiar “Hunger Games” style teen-flick territory with a supernatural twist or two. There is a wholly predictable teen romance between Ruby and Liam (Harris Dickinson) that is quite sweetly done… but it is a road that has been travelled countless times before. The ending of that story-line is quite novel though, and one that now makes sense of the rather confusing trailer.
Carrying all of this pretty effortlessly is Stenberg who gives a genuinely effective and moving performance. (If you are struggling to think where you’ve heard her name before, she played the young Rue in the original “Hunger Games”). She is shortly to star in the upcoming “The Hate U Give”, which from the trailer looks like it might be half decent. The young lady is certainly having quite a breakthrough year, and from this performance she needs to be tested in something better, as the likes of Shailene Woodley was with “The Descendants”.
Of the “adult” actors, Whitford has little more than a cameo performance in the film, as does Mandy Moore. The only 20+ person who really makes an impact is Gwendoline Christie, here shorn of stormtrooper gear and being badass as a vicious modern version of the child catcher from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. Taking a long walk in the woods has never felt so gratifying!
In the technical arena, there is a nice score by Benjamin Wallfisch, and some clever editing by Maryann Brandon and Dean Zimmerman that makes best use of the film’s meagre $34M budget. (Now, this is positively affluent compared to “The Girl With All The Gifts” $6M, but this still feels more like a B-movie in many ways).
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson (who only has a directorial CV with “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Kung Fu Panda 3” on it!), its not a terrible film by any means and indeed it certainly has its moments: the surprising opening referred to previously and also a battle within a camp-ground adds interest and excitement respectively. But as a film clearly pitching to become another “Divergent”/”Maze Runner”/etc./etc./etc. franchise wannabe, the story arc of the film as a standalone movie can never be very satisfying. Even along its semi-story-arc, the screenplay is spasmodic with the motivations of Ruby at certain points (without having read the book) sometimes being difficult to fathom.
In summary, it’s a great and eye-catching performance from Amandla Stenberg, but otherwise the movie is eminently missable.
Fad Rating: FFF.