Unconvincing acting mars intriguing sci-fi concept
April 14, 2021
Making an unceremonious journey to theaters this weekend, the new sci-fi thriller Voyagers opens with an ominous title card about how the Earth is finally uninhabitable and we must go forth into the cosmos to find a new home.
The year is 2063. The good news is that we’ve found a planet that can play host to humanity, but the bad news is that the trip will take 86 years. So begins an unconventional mission, in which middle-aged scientist Richard Alling (Colin Farrell) boards a spaceship with 30 lab-bred boys and girls whose grandchildren will eventually reach the final destination.
Naturally, Alling won’t be able to carry out the entire mission due to its length, but his directive is to instead act as a paternal figure to the children as they grow up in their abnormal surroundings.
Part of this parenting task is keeping everyone calm and safe in their everyday life, made easier by a blue substance filled with emotional suppressants that the young cadets are made to ingest daily. The kids are none the wiser until they hit their late teens, when friends Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead) figure out there’s something in the water and stop drinking, while encouraging others like the chief medical officer Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) to do the same.
It turns out the chemical is no match for pent-up teenage hormones. When Alling dies from a freak accident, the ship descends into chaos as the young astronauts scramble to preserve the remnants of order that remain within their confined society.
Though it lifts heavily from both the forever prescient Lord of the Flies and George Lucas’ debut THX 1138, Voyagers introduces a promising premise and even touches on the thought-provoking allegorical themes from its chief influences. The nature vs. nurture debate is naturally front-and-center in a story primarily populated by characters whose entire existence was curated from its very inception. Man’s impulse towards destruction amid civilization comes into focus in the film’s second half, along with the interplay of the emotional impulses and rational thinking that dwell within us all.
The film invokes these concepts in a capable manner but mainly remains frustratingly superficial and doesn’t draw many novel conclusions from these conundrums either.
Sadly, the actors don’t seem terribly game for such heady material and seemed pitched more towards a Hunger Games or Divergent type of young adult franchise.
I’ve given Tye Sheridan a fair amount of chances at this point, between the rare Speilberg dud Ready Player One to his Cyclops role in the newer X-Men films, to say that I just don’t find him a compelling front man on-screen.
Whitehead is another rising talent that strikes a bit more of a chord here as a feverishly menacing antagonist but isn’t above a totally unconvincing line reading or two either.
Depp (yes, daughter to Johnny) is the biggest bore of the three, possessing neither the goofball charisma nor hard-earned pathos that made her dad an international star before personal issues stalled his career.
Director Neil Burger makes up for some of the flat acting with visual flourishes that personify the repressed emotions of these teenagers all coming back in a rush. Along with cinematographer Enrique Chediak, he composes a nice motif of the camera running up and down the futuristic corridors, mirroring the excitement and infinite possibilities of youth. Composer Trevor Gureckis compliments these images with a properly pensive score that also knows when to amp up the excitement during the movie’s more action-packed sequences.
Engaging if not totally fulfilling, Voyagers has the components of contemplative sci-fi fare that is all too rare these days but ultimately stumbles due to its lack of conviction both in performances and storytelling.
New Movies Coming This Weekend
Opening in theaters is In the Earth, a horror film starring Joel Fry and Reece Shearsmith about a scientist and a park scout venturing into a nearby forest to find the cure for a disastrous virus.
Available to rent on demand is Monday, a romantic drama starring Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough about two strangers who come together one hot summer night in Athens, Greece.
Also available to digitally rent is Jakob’s Wife, a horror movie starring Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden about a small-town minister and his wife, the latter of whom discovers vampiric powers.