VOYAGERS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Neil Burger

Stars: Tye Sheridan, Fionn Whitehead, Lily-Rose Depp, Colin Farrell, Chante Adams, Quintessa Swindell, Isaac Hemstead Wright, Archie Madekwe.

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This dystopian Gen Z sci-fi drama is essentially something of a cross between Passengers and Lord Of The Flies.

Climate change, overpopulation and pollution are slowly killing the Earth. Scientists have been looking for an alternative home in space, another planet that can sustain human life and help preserve the species and our way of life. Sixty years in the future they discover such a planet. However, it will take 86 years to reach this planet. Unlike the recent Passengers (the 2016 film that starred Jennifer Lawrence) in which the intended settlers were placed into state of suspended animation but awoke from hibernation early after a malfunction, in Voyagers the scientists decide to send a bunch of young children into space.

Genetically engineered and raised in a sterile environment so that they have no connection to life on Earth, a group of bright kids are sent into space. It is hoped that they will procreate during the long journey, and that their offspring will also procreate, and that their grandchildren will help populate and colonise the new planet creating a new home for the human race. Accompanying the children, teaching them and preparing them for their mission and acting as their mentor is Dr Richard Alling (Colin Farrell). Even though he knows her won’t survive the journey Alling feels he has no reason to remain behind on Earth. The children are also fed a blue liquid chemical which supposedly keeps them calm and suppresses their animal urges. But best friends Chris (Tye Sheridan, from Mud, Ready Player One, etc) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead, from Dunkirk, etc) begin to question some of the decisions being made. While Richard initially is able to alleviate their concerns, he notices the subtle changes in their behaviour. Chris and Zac begin to deviate from the mission protocols and refuse to take the chemical solution.

After Richard is killed during an accident while carrying out repairs to their space craft, the kids are left to their own devices. But once adult supervision vanishes all the civilised rules of society disappear and anarchy rules. Chris is elected leader and he assumes charge, which doesn’t sit well with Zac, who begins to warn the rest of the crew about a strange alien presence on board. Zac manages to become the alpha male and divides the kids into factions. Those who support Zac and his ideas turn feral and set out to hunt down those who oppose him. Chris and Sela (Lily-Rose Depp), the science officer, are amongst those who oppose Zac and try to keep the mission on track.

Voyagers essentially reimagines Lord Of The Flies set in outer space. Throw in the presence of females and raging hormones and the situation grows more complicated and fraught with sexual tension. The teen crew are slowly consumed by fear, lust and a thirst for power.

Writer/director Neil Burger (the 2014 YA dystopian thriller Divergent, etc) eschews many of the usual special effects typical of the sci-fi genre, preferring to concentrate on the more human aspects of his narrative. He raises questions about the inherently violent nature of man, and also questions the kind of brave new world this new generation will establish when they reach their destination. There is some great production design from Scott Chambliss (Tomorrowland, Godzilla King Of The Monsters, etc), which creates the long sterile corridors, and the pristine living and working spaces of the craft. This is also a good-looking film as Enrique Chediak’s camera hurtles through these endless corridors.

Once again Sheridan proves himself to be amongst the best young actors of his generation, and he brings some authority, maturity and intelligence to his performance. Whitehead is dangerously charismatic and brings a palpable sense of menace and paranoia to his role.  Depp is also strong and brings a sense of conviction to her role as the resourceful Sela. Farrell brings a sense of gravitas to his small but pivotal role as the father figure accompanying the kids on the long voyage. Most of the supporting characters are basically one note stereotypes who are given little personality or depth.

In the end though many of the tropes explored here are overly familiar and Voyagers holds few surprises.

★★☆

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