“Welcome to Her Nightmare”
Directed by Jay Martin
Starring Allie Marie Evans
A man absconds from an institution in the dead of night, taking a group of children with him, but not his own son. Years later, the oldest of the children, Max (Evans) is their de facto leader and forces them to remain hidden. They are the Flock, a group of experimental hybrids of human and avian DNA, and as a result have fully functioning wings that retract fully into their skinny-ass teenage bodies and other bird-related powers, like enhanced hearing and telepathy. You know, like birds have.
The youngest of the group, Angel, is abducted by ‘Erasers’ led by the son of their liberator, Ari, who appears to now be part tiger or something and has a personal beef with Max. Max and her sidekick Fang head out after Angel, but Max is shot interceding in an assault and has to be treated by a vet, revealing that they have all been carrying tracking chips since before their escape. The younger members of the group escape from Ari by blowing up their house, but in the end everyone gets captured. Max learns that Jeb took them out of the lab as a test and leads a second breakout, and the Flock head for New York, no doubt craving bagels.
What’s wrong with it?
Well, for starters the lead character is called ‘Maximum Ride’, which is as rubbish a name as it is a title, and honestly the latter isn’t helped by just referring to the character as Max.
The film is based on bad… Okay, to be fair, the film is based on a massively successful YA book series which is based on bad science. I don’t know which makes me twitchier; the fully-formed bird wings that somehow vanish into a spare teenage frame, or the bird-derived telepathy. Genetics is not sorcery.
Maximum Ride is based on the first book of the series of the same name, and thus introduces a bunch of characters who don’t do very much (the older boys, Fang and Iggy, get especially short shrift, but token ethnic Nudge is mostly distinguished by putting people in danger with her desire to shop.) The only one who really does stuff in this opening chapter is Max, but either through bad writing, flat performance or a bit of both she comes off as neither edgy nor compelling.
The film fails to convey relationships strongly enough for their subversion to mean anything. We don’t know enough about Max and Fang (and seriously, Fang? For a bird-boy?) to know if they disagree all the time, or if Max running off to rescue some random in a street attack is out of character, a betrayal or what.
What’s right with it?
The wings are… I mean, they’re not great, but they’re not terrible, and that’s no mean feat given how difficult it is to animate good wings.
How bad is it really?
It’s not just dull, it’s aggressively dull. Maximum Ride is a film that gets up in your face about how dull it is. It makes a lot of noise about how stuff is happening an then it just isn’t.
Best bit (if such there is)?
There’s a fairly clever bit of shenanigans where Max is toeing the party line, but relays her true feelings telepathically via Angel, which is quite well done.
What’s up with…?
- Max’s mad combat skills? Even if she has magic bird strength, where did she learn to fight living alone with her Flock? I’d accept that she’s a scrapper, but she seems to have just picked up martial arts in that way that people actually don’t outside of movies where they learn kung fu from Chinese cinema.
- The wings? Like… in every way, what’s up with that? The retracting, the ability to actually fly with them, or the simple fact that they have them as well as arms. Neither humans nor birds are natural hexapods.
- The Institute’s failure to use any kind of vetting procedure to ensure that their chimerical guards aren’t ticking timebombs of rage and personal grievance?
Production values – Decent, but unexceptional, and hampered by the conceit that the wings are retractable. 9
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue is at best so-so, and the acting… Well, it’s not shockingly bad, but the core concept calls for child actors who can portray a wider range of emotions with significantly more power. It’s okay, but it needed badly to be great. 14
Plot and execution – The plot is pretty by the numbers; like an episode of Dark Angel if that Max had been part-bird instead of part-exploitation panther. The ensemble is insufficiently rounded to carry the story, however, and ultimately it’s hard to care, and when it’s hard to care about children being used in medical experiments, you’re definitely going wrong somewhere. 16
Randomness – The wings. The kung fu. The fact that the experimental bird children are tracked by volunteer experimental cat people. Why not just get volunteers – astronauts, war heroes, Olympians – for the bird people experiments? 13
Waste of potential – I don’t know the source, but there has to be a better way of doing this, even if that would be ‘on television.’ 9