The movie rides out this shaky premise to deliver its main characters from one predictable trope to another. After her escape, Ruby meets up with three fellow fugitives: a Green named Chubs (Skylan Brooks), a Yellow named Zu (Miya Cech) and a dreamy Blue named Liam (Harris Dickinson). They attempt to find a fabled safe haven for fugitive kids run by one of their own known as the Slip Kid, but, even more predictable than the two-day gestational period for Liam and Ruby's #truelove, the camp and its enigmatic leader are far too good to be true. The rest of the film is caught up in Ruby fighting the Slip Kid (Clancy Gray, the president's son, also an Orange) and reluctantly deciding to use her incredible abilities in the fight for freedom for those like her. And to be perfectly honest, this film could've languished in the inoffensive and boring categories, were it not for the extreme and disturbing violence someone thought belonged in this type of movie.
That isn’t to say other dystopian films shy away from violence against children, but that kind of imagery is only watchable set against the backdrop of a clearly alternate universe. The Darkest Minds is really good at borrowing concepts from other franchises that involve apocalypses and/or teens, but it fails hard in execution because it completely ignores the connective tissue that holds those stories together. There's no world-building, beyond off-hand explanation for why the West Virginia countryside is deserted ("No kids, no economy," states Mandy Moore's Dr. Cate Nolastname), and the initial narration establishing the pandemic. Beyond those two elements, this world doesn't feel that different from our own, and that makes the brutality these kids endure both gratuitous and unsettling.
In addition to the government, the kids are on the run from bounty hunters, one of whom is Lady Jane (Gwendolyn Christie), who engages Ruby & Co. in a car chase and takes shots at Liam's head like they're in a Bourne movie. We learn through flashback that Liam and Zu are two survivors of a massacre that occurred when they attempted to stage a prison break. We're treated to guards mercilessly gunning down children as they try to escape captivity, which -- spoiler alert -- is going to go over like a ton of bricks in the current political climate. Beyond that, Clancy Gray attempts to sexually assault Ruby and then threatens to simply try again and erase himself from her memories. Because the script hasn't bothered to set up a dystopia that would somehow ground those occurrences, it feels like teen torture porn.
The Darkest Minds seeks to capitalize on the YA dystopian market by stripping other franchises of their key elements and then tossing in violence for shock value to make up for its utter lack of originality. The result is discomfiting at best and offensive at worst. When Ruby finally emerges victorious, it’s not nearly impactful enough to make up for having to slog through bad imitations of other films and watch kids get abused by adults and each other for more than two hours.
Based on the book by Alexandra Bracken, director Jennifer Yuh Nelson's The Darkest Minds stars Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie, Harris Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Patrick Gibson, Golden Brooks, Wallace Langham and Bradley Whitford. The film is in theaters nationwide.