TL;DR – While it is clearly treading across old ground, I still found the narrative and the cast to be compelling throughout.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene.
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film.
Voyagers Review –
When you are talking about scenarios that immediately capture your attention, humans escaping Earth to try and colonise another planet to make sure humanity survives is one of those that immediately catches my attention. When it is done well, you are drawn into this world of desperation and struggles of leaving behind what you love for the unknown, but you lose the humanity for spectacle when it is done poorly. Today we look at a film that kind of swings between these poles in parts, but never the less left an impact on me.
So to set the scene, in 2063, the climate on Earth is steadily worsening as the planet warms, leading to the genuine suggestion that humanity might not survive as a species. However, in this moment of darkness, scientists find what they believe to be a habitable planet. The only problem is that it will take over 80 years to reach it with the current technology. This means that those who leave on the trip will likely not be alive when it arrives, and indeed it will probably be their grandchildren, the third generation, that will survive. Given the danger and pressure to get a scouting ship out as soon as possible, they decide to grow a purpose crew that has never seen the big open world so they won’t miss it during the long ride. However, that means they are just children, so Richard Alling (Colin Farrell), their teacher decides to join them on the one way trip into the dark to help prepare them for those moments when it all goes wrong.
Right from the start, I did like the Humanitas’ design, the ship taking them on the trip. There is a juxtaposition between the larger rooms and the long narrow corridors that gives it a visual variety that you need when everything is the same white/grey palette. This design also allows for some nifty scenes of kids running down long hallways as the camera runs ahead of them, which of course, gets subverted as the film goes on. There are also these pops of colour throughout that help create a lived-in world. From a look at things, it seems like they built a lot of this practically, which helps sell the mission’s reality and the dangers they might face. The other part of the production that captured me was the musical score by Trevor Gureckis. It does have to do a lot of the heavy lifting when the tone of the film shifts, but I was captured by the use of solo violin over a dirge of string underneath. As someone who likes to set the scene, I respect when someone also wants to set a scene, game recognising game.
At the heart of the narrative is what happens when these kids who were created to be the best of humanity [the film does kind of gloss over the eugenics-lite aspects of its creation] start to discover the controls placed upon them to try and limit impulse control and thus unexpected pregnancies, the mission basically doped up all the kids to lower their inhibitions. Which, of course, they discovered, and of course that lie ripped them asunder on an emotional level. This means that you have a whole ship of purpose-built teens/young adults going through the hormonal side of puberty cold turkey. That sounds like a nightmare to me.
In many ways, this might be the most real thing that the film explores because, of course, in a world guided by purely STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math], would they think this is a good idea. Every Social Scientist, Psychologist, Historian, etc., would hear that scenario and immediately point out the glaring problems that can occur with that scenario. There is a reason that the USS Enterprise has a whole counselling staff, and inevitably everything starts falling apart. For me, it was like watching a train rushing towards a blocked crossing, knowing it was about to crash and not being able to stop it.
Now it is here where the film clearly takes inspiration from Lord of the Flies, or if you are uncharitable, just becomes Lord of the Flies in space but with horny teens. I would not go as far as to say it was the latter, but then it has been a long time since I have read the book, maybe since high school, so it might be lifting more of the plot than I can remember. Whatever the case, I still found this film compelling, not so much to its links with the literary past, but more how we get a crash course in the rise of a dictatorial leader and their brand of fascism rite large. In the film, we have three different leaders, Zac (Fionn Whitehead), the man who wants to be a leader but shows none of the qualities that makes a good leader, Sela (Lily-Rose Depp), who has all the best leadership qualities but who does not want the role, and Christopher ‘Chris’ (Tye Sheridan) who everyone likes the most and becomes the de facto leader when actual leadership was absent. Overall, I think the whole cast fits into their roles well, with some truly menacing performances from Archie Madekwe and Fionn Whitehead that help sell this world in free fall.
While I found the film engaging, but that was not to say that it was a flawless film. To discuss the problems, I need to look at certain plot elements which will take us into [SPOILER] territory for the rest of the review. There were moments in this film that were truly terrifying, like watching Zac take something that should have destroyed his leadership ambitions and then parley that into strengthening his position. That being said, the moment you see the cards being dealt at the start of the film, you can already chart out the rough course of the narrative from the moment Richard dies, and you will likely be on the money. This was not a deal-breaker for me, as I found the content and scenario compelling, but it might be for you.
I think the film did drop the ball by creating two characters that, right from the start that was clearly set up to be sacrificial lambs for the narrative. They also just so happen to be two of the stronger PoC characters in the film, which means when one of them gets lynched by a mob incited by a white fascist leader, it feels about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Still, you feel that the film didn’t understand what they were doing here, which made it all so much worse. As well as this, there were some odd stylistic inserts used to symbolise the rebellion/awakening in each of the characters, which very much fit into the style over substance side of filmmaking and mostly elicited laughs in the screening I went to when I am sure they meant for it to feel profound.
In the end, do we recommend Voyagers? Well. It is a film that clearly wears its inspiration on its sleeve, not all the acting works, and it has some clumsy stylistic choices, which means it is not going to be for everyone. However, while I can’t say that I enjoyed the film, I found it compelling from start to finish, making it a movie I would recommend from that perspective.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Voyagers
Directed by – Neil Burger
Written by – Neil Burger
Music by – Trevor Gureckis
Cinematography by – Enrique Chediak
Edited by – Naomi Geraghty
Production/Distribution Companies – Thunder Road Films, AGC Studios, Fibonacci Films, Freecss Films, Ingenious Media, Nota Bene Films, Focus Pictures & Universal Pictures
Starring – Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead, Chanté Adams, Quintessa Swindell, Archie Madekwe, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Viveik Kalra, Madison Hu, Archie Renaux, Wern Lee, Lou Llobell, Reda Elazouar, Mariska Ariya, Theadore Soptelea, Andrei Anghel, Vu Hoang Viet, Saleh Mohamed, Pan Jiaqiang, Samuel Sealey, Elena Raducanu, Ioana Brumar, Julienne Kadima, Phan T. Thao, Petruta Petrea, Victoria E. Moraru, Irina Artenii, Iona Nimigean, Anh H. Nguyen, Vlad Ionut Popescu & Colin Farrell
Rating – Australia: MA15+; United States: PG-13