You remember reading Lord of the Flies in middle school, right? Now, picture that book set in space, with horny teenagers, and you have Voyagers.
The dystopian future on display in the film takes place in 2063. Earth has been destroyed by rising temperatures and drout, so scientists have been looking for a new planet that could sustain life. They discover a potential target, but the journey there will take over 86 years. Their solution to preserving humanity is to breed a group of babies, then raise them in isolation so they would never miss life on earth. Those kids would then travel through space, breeding on the way, and their grandchildren would inhabit the new, distant planet.
Richard (Colin Farrell), both a scientist and father figure to the children, supervises their empty and sterile learning environment on earth. Realizing they will need someone to accompany them into space, he volunteers for the mission. He does this despite knowing he will die during the journey.
Voyagers speeds through that exposition pretty quickly, including those 30 kids rocketing into space. The film then jumps ten years into the future, just as the children are turning into fresh-faced young adults. At this point, the plot becomes very familiar.
I only queued up my screener after being told by a friend that it was “Lord of the Flies in space.” I assumed, incorrectly, that she meant that loosely. Upon watching the movie, however, I realized it was fairly literal. These kids, left to their own devices, are gonna do what hormonal teenagers do. At least they will once they stop taking “The Blue.” They have been told it was a vitamin supplement, but it turns out “The Blue” drugs them into a repressive state to keep all of their stronger urges in check.
Once they get “The Blue” out of their systems, things escalated quickly. There are some unwanted (and wanted) touches, some violence, and then a descent into madness, basically. That rapid shift takes away what could have made the story interesting or fun. The kids are dull and boring with “The Blue,” they’re angry and sex-crazed without it. While Lord Of The Flies gives you a journey into chaos, Voyagers just drops it on you. This all happens without the chance to learn enough about the characters to make you actually care about any of them.
Just to crush any thoughts you might have that the similarities between Voyagers and Lord Of The Flies are coincidental, keep in mind the film has a clear Ralph (Tye Sheridan’s Christopher), a clear Jack (Fionn Whitehead’s Zac) and a “beast” (an alien, because, you know…space). There’s even a Piggy (Pheobe), who is, problematically, played by Chanté Adams, one of the actors of color in the film. Hearing Pheobe degraded by Zac hits an odd note in a film that features a relatively diverse cast, but yet never mentions race.
Voyagers successfully revs up the tension throughout certain moments in the film. Unfortunately, the act of going on a spacewalk produced more suspense than the kids manically stalking each other throughout the ship. The heavy use of fast-cut stock footage and timelapse shots created some visual interest in the film that otherwise looks “futuristic setting 101” with lots of bright whites, blue lights, and the occasional shift to red light to indicate danger.
The idea of a “Lord Of The Flies In Space” could actually be an interesting concept for a film. Sadly, Voyagers writer and director Neil Burger does not deliver on that potential. Attractive people acting competently and a few interestingly shot sequences cannot make up for the lack of storytelling or a coherent plot.
You can catch Voyagers in theaters on April 9, 2021.
Runtime: 1h 48m
With the future of the human race at stake, a group of young men and women, bred for intelligence and obedience, embark on an expedition to colonize a distant planet. But when they uncover disturbing secrets about the mission, they defy their training and begin to explore their most primitive natures. As life on the ship descends into chaos, they’re consumed by fear, lust, and the insatiable hunger for power. Written and directed by Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist), the film stars Tye Sheridan (The X-Men franchise), Lily-Rose Depp (Savage), Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk), Chanté Adams (Roxanne, Roxanne), Isaac Hempstead Wright (“Game of Thrones”), Viveik Kalra (Blinded by the Light), Archie Madekwe (Midsommar), Quintessa Swindell (Trinkets), Madison Hu (“Bizaardvark”), and Colin Farrell (The Gentlemen).