While ‘The New Mutants’ Has Fun with its Teen Horror Aspects, Blatant Racism Can’t be Excused

A still from 'The New Mutants'. Wolfsbane (Maisie Williams), Sunspot (Henry Zaga), Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), Cannonball (Charlie Heaton) and Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy) all stand outside of a psychiatric hospital. Wolfsbane is a tomboy in a baggy jumper and cropped hair and white skin, Sunspot is a handsome boy with dark hair and plain t-shirt and chinos, Dani Moonstar is an Indigenous young woman wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. Cannonball looks like a bit of a redneck, with scruggy clothes, scruggy hair and a baseball cap. Magik has something smeared on her face, long blonde hair and all black, short clothes.
20th Century Studios

Disclaimer: This film was viewed at a drive-in cinema where social distancing and face coverings were required. We urge audiences to consider the safety of themselves and of cinema staff when making the decision to see this film in cinemas and/or drive-in cinemas.

The New Mutants, directed by Josh Boone, was originally going to be released in April 2018. For those of us keeping track, that’s over 2 years that this film has been hit with delays and a myriad of other production issues. So given the running joke that The New Mutants will never see the light of day, it’s finally been released to the public during a worldwide pandemic. How’s the final results? Well, they’re fine. Just fine.

The New Mutants is set in 20th Century Studios’ (formerly 20th Century Fox) X-men universe, following a group of mutant teens who are held against their will in a psychiatric hospital until they can learn to control their powers. The film focuses on a young Indigenous mutant named Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) as she survives the destruction of her reservation and a deadly attack in the woods by an unknown entity that kills her father. Dani wakes up in a psychiatric hospital with other students such as Wolfsbane (Maisie Williams), Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy), Cannonball (Charlie Heaton) and Sunspot (Henry Zaga), where they’re all being held against their will.

Though an admittedly simple set up, the setting provides ample opportunity for our characters to get to know each other, but in the end has mixed results. Magik is portrayed to be the bully of the group by outright calling Dani numerous racist slurs, that are a lazy approach to portray her as ‘edgy’; it’s 2020, there are numerous better ways to portray someone as a bully without outright making them a racist bigot. The worst part about it is that 5-10 minutes later the film addresses the character’s racist actions and then it’s dropped from the film entirely, providing the question: why was this there in the first place?

A still from 'The New Mutants'. Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy)  is shown in close-up. She has long blonde hair with a blunt fringe and large, blue eyes with dainty features. She rests her left hand on her chin.
20th Century Studios

Where The New Mutants thrives is in the horror department— borrowing more from Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, than anything else. The group soon learn that they’re being targeted by their darkest fears through an unknown means. This premise allows the film to truly flex its creature design featuring fears such as dying loved ones, past mistakes, religion and outright demonic forces. It’s not the smartest or best execution, but in the moment it can genuinely be a lot of fun (in a ‘fun house’ type of way), and only falls apart in the second half due to its odd pacing and abrupt ending.

Another strong aspect is that the film allows its LGBT lead to actually be gay. Dani is portrayed as developing romantic feeling towards Wolfsbane and is allowed to freely act on her desires — it’s a far cry from Deadpool 2’s depiction of its lesbian relationship. The film also provides interesting allegories and metaphors touching on religion and gay conversion therapy that admittedly is a bit heavy handed at times, but it was at least a mention nonetheless.

At the end of the day was The New Mutants worth a two year wait? Short answer is no, not really. While there are aspects to like such as its horror influence and LGBT portrayal, it falls short in other aspects such as its racist dialogue and odd pacing in the second half. Truth be told and problematic issues acknowledged, I had fun with The New Mutants. It’s the type of cheesy teen horror film that I can see myself carving pumpkins too, or showing someone that’s just dipping their toes into horror movies. If you were on the fence before, nothing in The New Mutants will change your mind. 

The New Mutants is playing at drive-in cinemas in the US and in cinemas in the UK now

by Reyna Cervantes

Reyna (She/They) is located in southern California! They are an aspiring screenwriter with experience in sound design and production work, their 3 favourite films are Evil Dead 2, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Frances Ha. All of their social handles are @JFCDoomblade (twitter, insta, letterboxd).

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