Can New Mutants Succeed in Bringing the X-Men to Horror Movies?


In the wee hours of the morning, the first trailer for Fox’s upcoming New Mutants film dropped. Directed by Josh Boone of Fault in Our Stars fame, the film focuses on teen mutants trapped in a government facility just as things start to get all sorts of nuts. Anticipation for the film has been fairly high, since these are beloved characters from the X-Men franchise, but when the trailer dropped, the reactions were... mixed, it seems. Some think the trailer is just bad overall, while others took up the argument that it doesn't look anything like the X-Men.

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Rather than being a bombastic action movie replete with costumes and flashy action, New Mutants is going for an angle that’s certainly new for the X-Men: straight-up horror. Boone has been up front about that from pretty much day one, saying, “no costumes....no supervillains. We’re trying to do something, very, very different.” That’s certainly clear from the the trailer, which has a solid horror/psychological thriller bent. The film also happens to have an evil psychic bear named Demon Bear, confirmed as the villain for months, though none of that is visible in the trailer itself. Instead, it’s full of sequences that are pretty commonplace in movies set inside an asylum -- something coming out the walls, forced experimentation, a creepy doctor spouting scienctific mumbo jumbo, and the like. Even with the word “mutant” blatantly dropped at the start of the trailer, nothing about it feels like an X-Men film, or even set in the same universe. There’s not even any superpowers on display, at least obviously, which is another first for an X-Men movie trailer.

new mutants movie

The X-Men universe has seen its share of genre shifting in recent years, to be fair--Logan, The Gifted and Deadpool have all proven to be successful experiments in putting a fresh coat of paint on the traditional superhero film. But those three examples still stick to the X-Men film formula of costumed weirdos fighting the government with flashy superpowers. Deadpool uses the formula as a form of mockery, The Gifted scales it down, and Logan just isolates it to what’s really the least flashy (but no less impressive) power in the X-film roster. Just as how audiences know what to expect from Marvel Studios or DC Entertainment movies, they have a fairly solid idea of what to expect from X-films, and New Mutants certainly isn't that.

There are ways to do superhero horror movies, certainly -- people still talk about the first two Blade films for a reason, after all. But those movies were also being upfront about how the Daywalker was a monster that the vampires were all afraid of, providing a clever inverse on the trope. In fact, horror movies have perhaps the most iconic tropes of any genre, one of the most popular ones being the feeling of helplessness up until the very end. It’s why they’re popular, and it makes the moment where they finally fight back all the more satisfying.

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Recent horror movies have made that feeling more prominent: Annabelle: Creation had a character who was a polio survivor, making her escape twice as difficult, while It personalized the fears of each member of the Losers Club into abstract concepts any child would be afraid of, such as maturity and acceptance. That the teens of New Mutants have superpowers is one heck of a curveball to throw into the mix, especially since most of them have powers that serve both defensive and offensive purposes. At their worst, horror movies feature characters who make boneheaded decisions, choices that make you shout at the screen in frustration. New Mutants will have to contrive a good reason for what’s stopping a character like Charlie Heaton’s Sam Guthrie from literally just propelling himself away from all this nonsense.

It showed that people are willing to drop a ton of money for a horror movie that’s just plain weird -- and make no mistake, all the cosmic stuff in that movie is fantastic -- but that also has the benefit of originating as a Stephen King novel, a writer who is well known for being incredibly versatile. New Mutants, on the other hand, is the eleventh film in a franchise that’s been going on for nearly two decades, and didn’t decide to really experiment with other genres until its sixth film thirteen years in. Say what you will about the Marvel films, they at least have consistently given the impression of genre shifting with each subsequent film and franchise since Phase 1. The New Mutants may all be teenagers who are just discovering their powers, but that can’t shield every stupid decision that those characters will most certainly make -- here's hoping the filmmakers are aware of this potential pitfall and have developed a solid in-story way to navigate around it.

Arriving April 13, 2018, director Josh Boone's The New Mutants stars Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) as Wolfsbane, Henry Zaga (13 Reasons Why) as Sunspot, Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things) as Cannonball, Anya Taylor-Joy (Atlantis) as Magik, Blu Hunt (The Originals) as Danielle Moonstar and Alice Braga (Queen of the South) as Dr. Cecilia Reyes.

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