Tag: charlie heaton

The New Mutants

The New Mutants (2020)
★ / ★★★★

In the lounge of the secret facility where young adult mutants are confined so they can learn how to control their powers, Season 4 of Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is constantly playing on television, arguably the show’s worst season. There is a reason for this. The film and the cult TV show’s fourth year tackle a similar theme: identity. Despite this, I found myself wishing I were sitting through Buffy and the rest of the Scooby Gang’s first year in college than having to endure another interminable minute of “The New Mutants,” written by Josh Boone (who directs) and Knate Lee, an insipid, boring, spiritless, and highly expository dirge set somewhere in the “X-Men” universe. I dub it “X-Men on Quaaludes.”

For a movie revolving around teenagers with budding superpowers, not much of interest happens. The problem isn’t the fact that the patients are stuck in one location. An imaginative and well-written screenplay finds freedom within physical confines. Creating compelling characters outside of their superpowers—abilities that we’ve all seen before within and outside of the “X-Men” franchise—is the biggest hurdle the work is unable to overcome. Through flashbacks, nightmares, and imaginings we manage to take a peek into our heroes’ tragic pasts. However, once we have the necessary information, awful memories remain just that: they haunt, they force their possessor to assume the fetal position. Their bearers never undergo convincing arcs and so when the movie is finally over, we wonder what point the story is trying to make, if any.

The enigmatic facility is run by Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga), a mutant capable of generating powerful force fields. Although there are no walls or fences around the hospital, there is no escape. The newest arrival is a Native American named Dani (Blu Hunt), the sole survivor of a mysterious attack against her tribe. No one knows her power, not even herself. There are four other patients: spitfire Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy, a scene-stealer) who possesses the power of teleportation (and her arm can change into a sword), the welcoming Rahne (Maisie Williams) who can transform into a wolf, the guilt-ridden Sam (Charlie Heaton) who can move faster than a rocket, and playboy Bobby (Henry Zaga) who can envelop his entire body into flames. These comic book characters are not translated in a way that works in a cinematic medium. As they clash and prance around nondescript hallways, I felt as though all of them are mere cardboard cutouts.

How can this be when the movie is so dialogue-heavy? There are at least three group therapy sessions with Dr. Reyes. A handful of moments where the teenagers hang out and measure each other up, particularly Dani and Illyana. And there is a budding romance between Dani and Rahne. It goes to show that just because characters are speaking to one another does not necessarily mean they are saying much. I felt awful for the performers because I felt their enthusiasm behind each portrayal. But they never stood a chance because the screenplay is dead in the water.

Of course the film must wrap up by employing visual effects extravaganza. I felt numb by all of it. It’s like walking into a room where a friend is attempting to defeat the final boss of a Japanese role-playing video game. It looks epic—Lights! Magic! Pulse-pounding score!—but it’s difficult to care because you don’t have the necessary context as to why that final battle is important for the avatars fighting. But watching the closing chapters of “The New Mutants” is actually worse because the visual effects are muddled at times and we did sit through the context yet it still fails to make an impact.

The Secret of Marrowbone

The Secret of Marrowbone (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Here is a horror film that is more interested in telling a story than scaring the wits out of its viewers. Those familiar with the name Sergio G. Sánchez will not be surprised by this claim considering he was the screenwriter of “El orfanato,” another horror film in which the scares are byproducts of the mythos to be told. This time, putting on the shoes of writer-director, he helms “Marrowbone” like a drama that just so happens to have a secret at its center. Sánchez intends for the viewer to care about the characters first and foremost so that revelations during the final minutes make sense and the emotions that come with them are earned.

For the most part, the risky experiment works. Although apparently not for a typical modern audience who wishes to encounter jump scares every five minutes, those willing to peer closer into the mystery will be rewarded by a beautiful-looking picture, so atmospheric even during daytime when it is supposed to be safe. Notice the way Sánchez captures the open landscapes—meadows, seashores, a small town—and how he uses their majesty as contrast against the cramp indoors in which underaged siblings (George MacKay, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth, Matthew Stagg) must hide themselves after the death of their mother (Nicola Harrison). All they have to do is wait for the eldest, Jack (MacKay), to turn twenty-one so authorities would no longer have the legal power to separate them.

There is a convincing romantic subplot between the eldest sibling and a librarian (Anya Taylor-Joy). It is handled with care, simplicity, and authenticity. Not once does it get in the way of the core story. In fact, the relationship between Jack and Allie serves as a beacon of hope in an otherwise increasingly dark material in which the threat of being found out looms over like having to exhale eventually. In a story like this, we know it is only a matter of time until the siblings’ secret is found out. A jealous porter (Kyle Soller), for instance, who takes a special interest in Allie cannot help to put his nose in places where it doesn’t belong.

A wonderful chemistry is shared among the siblings. Although they do not share numerous dramatic moments, plenty is communicated, for example, when they play board games, frolic along the beach, or decide what to do with the aforementioned porter who wishes to collect the two hundred dollars in addition to the deceased mother’s signature. Money is a problem… but actually acquiring signature from a dead person is another matter entirely. We watch in careful anticipation as the siblings attempt to extricate themselves from tricky situations. Meanwhile, the youngest, Sam, is convinced there is a supernatural force in their mother’s childhood home. Noises can be heard from the attic.

I admire “The Secret of Marrowbone” for its bold vision and confident execution. While most horror filmmakers are out to terrorize their viewers, Sánchez wishes to envelop us in a creepy atmosphere and build a strong sense of place. To me, it is a superior approach because the strategy requires some level of specificity, an emotional investment. By contrast, in order for jump scares to work most of time, all that has to happen is to suddenly show a figure in front of the camera accompanied by the breaking of silence with a deafening noise. The result is evanescent. In this film, on the other hand, we cannot help but think about what we had just seen or experienced as the credits roll.