With Star Wars concluded, Marvel Phase 4 postponed and Godzilla vs. Kong not for another few months, we are all hankering for some fun, popcorn worthy movies. But I can safely say that the new YA thriller Chaos Walking is NOT worth your time. (Mild spoilers ahead).
Chaos Walking features a star-studded line-up including Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Madds Mikkelson, Nick Jonas, and David Oyelowo, and takes place on an alien planet called (unoriginally), New World. Every man who steps foot on the planet is infected by the Noise Germ and every thought in their heads is then broadcasted to the people around them. Strangely, women do not broadcast this noise. The story follows teenage Todd Hewitt (Holland) as he encounters Viola Eade (Ridley), a stranger whose colony ship has crash-landed on the planet. When Todd realises the evil intentions of his settlement’s Mayor (Mikkelson), he goes on a coming-of-age journey to help Viola and protect the new wave of colonists.
The movie is based on the Chaos Walking series by acclaimed author Patrick Ness, and covers the first of the trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go. News surrounding its torturous production disclosed pretty early the unlikeliness of the film spawning any sequels. The film was in development for over 10 years, pushed back again and again, and even called an “unreleasable nightmare” at one point. And yep, I can see why. This film is utterly awful and will likely perish into obscurity.
The word I’d use to describe Chaos Walking is ‘bland.’ All the actors are giving one-note performances; no one in this movie feels like a real character. You have Todd as the wide-eyed innocent; Viola as the stoic protagonist, Mikkelson as the evil twist villain. There’s the zealous preacher, the comforting role model, the teenage bully – all stock personas we’ve seen a million times before, but nothing new has been added. Compared to the lovable protagonists in Ness’s novel, it feels like the film is going through the motions. They should have named it Chaos Sleep-Walking.
The unoriginality continues into the design of New World. Instead of bombarding us with alien plants and creatures like in the book, New World looks a lot like Earth, but with a few CGI touch-ups. The worst offenders are the native race of aliens known as the Spackle, which look like every other grey, faceless alien we’ve seen in every other sci-fi movie. While the Spackle have a major part to play in The Knife of Never Letting Go and the rest of the trilogy, generating themes of slavery, ownership, prejudice, invasion, and loss of humanity, here, they’re treated like an afterthought. With a bit of tweaking, these alien creatures could be chopped out of the film entirely and no one would miss a thing.
The tone of this movie is all over the place. We alternate between long, quiet stretches, and incredibly rapid action scenes, which are fun in the moment, but over before they can make an impression. Dialogue is a whole other problem, becoming so predictable in quiet moments to the point where it doesn’t build character. Oh, the script is woeful. Five minutes in and I was already shaking my head at the amount of sloppy exposition being piled up. To add insult to injury, the inconsistencies in accent really threw me off. Tom Holland speaks like he’s from the depths of Kentucky, but Ridley is as British as ever, Mikkelson was using his natural Danish accent, and British-born David Oyelowo was American. These differences didn’t help with the immersion; it just made everything more confusing.
Despite my criticisms, the real tragedy is that the film can be really creative.
It’s always hard to show telepathy in a visual sense, as how do you communicate something so cerebral? How do you articulate what’s usually hidden inside our protagonist’s mind without using narration? Well, Chaos Walking sidesteps this issue by portraying “The Noise” as a multi-coloured fog that orbits a person’s head, and uses it to show key bits of information, pictures and memories. It’s a novel idea and it does contribute to the plot, but it’s woefully inconsistent. In scenes where you’d expect the characters to be questioning everything, their Noise is completely silent, whereas in other scenes, it’s used only for a punch line. The forced romance between Viola and Todd is the best example of what’s cute in the book becoming cringe-worthy in the film, as Todd desperately tries to control his adolescent thoughts around Viola and always inevitably fails. Yawn!
I would have forgiven the film if it had at least given me some decent gore. Chaos Walking, even for a YA novel, is an extremely bloody story, where characters are mangled and mutilated again and again, and yet somehow stay alive to fight another day. However, this film was riding the PG-13 bandwagon hard, and was about as insipid and bloodless as you can get. All in all, with bland acting, terrible dialogue, uninspired design and a trite and clichéd ending, I was thoroughly unimpressed. I don’t usually walk out of films, but I was ready to walk out of Chaos Walking.
Save your money, or spend it on the book. It doesn’t disappoint.
Final Verdict: 1.5 Pelicans out of 5.
Words by Rachel Denham-White