Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture. It’s the end of the movie year, which means it’s time for wrap-up lists!
We’ll get to the good stuff next week, but today, we look at the five worst genre movies of 2018. Some of these were cheap cash-grabs; some of them had good ideas but went astray; some of them… well, we don’t know what was going on there. You might think it’s mean to pick on these stinkers, but remember: you can’t have the good without the bad.
Here are the very bad.
The Darkest Minds
Take our word for it: Amandla Stenberg is going to be a star. She’s terrific in the underrated social drama The Hate U Give as a young woman struggling with her conscience after witnessing the death of her friend at the hand of a racist cop. But even she can’t save The Darkest Minds, a woebegone attempt to launch a new YA fantasy franchise.
Based on the Alexandra Bracken book, the movie introduces us to a scary future where most of America’s children have been wiped out — and the ones left alive have freaky powers. Before you can say "X-Men Lite," The Darkest Minds is rolling out every dystopian cliché you can imagine. Adorably, the film has an open-ended finale that leaves room for possible sequels. Spoiler Alert: there aren’t going to be any.
Blumhouse's Truth or Dare
Would you like to play a game? Not if it’s Truth or Dare, a witless horror movie that’s like a third-rate It Follows. Director Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) presents us with a group of dully attractive young people who get sucked into a lethal version of the titular game: They have to keep playing … or they’ll die. Frankly, death often felt like a more appealing prospect than watching these dummies try to stay alive. One feels especially bad for Lucy Hale, who’s shown promise in Pretty Little Liars. But the truth is, this film stinks.
Directing brothers Jonathan Baker and Josh Baker announced themselves with a promising short film, 2014’s Bag Man, which they turned into their feature debut. Unfortunately, that film, Kin, deservedly crashed and burned at the box office.
Myles Truitt and Jack Reynor play young men on the run from a semi-dangerous thug (James Franco, barely invested), eventually teaming up with a kindly stripper (Zoë Kravitz) while packing an extra-terrestrial laser gun. (Seriously, don’t ask.) References to The Terminator don’t do anything to elevate this generic sci-fi chase picture. And we’d love to know what blackmail material the Bakers had on Carrie Coon and Dennis Quaid to get them to sign up for this dud.
If you’re going to do a remake of the old fascist revenge saga – which, for all its gross politics, at least had the courage of its own convictions – and give it to Eli Roth, of all people, you should at least have the energy to be confrontational and controversial. This movie holds the odd distinction of being both loathsome and boring. And don’t take our word on it: look at Bruce Willis, who looks like he’d rather be just about anyplace else in the world than in this movie. We know how he feels.
Duncan Jones opened a lot of eyes with Moon and Source Code, but then made one of the worst movies of recent memory with Warcraft. Given a big budget and a dream cast from Netflix, he strikes out again with Mute, which features a future dystopia in which everything is somehow both ugly and bland at the same time. The movie has no new thoughts about what the future might look like, and it has no visual sense, either: it looks muddied and dark on the big screen and even worse on Netflix. And we're still not sure what Paul Rudd is trying to do in this movie. How can this possibly be the same director who did Moon?