It’s just a co-ed, sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies. That’s it, that’s the review.
Oh, do I need to elaborate? Okay, fine.
Voyagers tells the tale of a multi-generational space mission, one launched from a slowly dying Earth with the intention of colonizing a newly discovered planet. Genetically engineered children are raised to adulthood by Richard (Colin Farrell), who is secretly placing a drug in their daily vitamin drinks that limits their ability to feel most natural and hormonal things – sexual arousal, anger, jealousy, and any other extreme emotion. When Richard dies during an external repair, the young people go off of their drug and begin running amok. Zac (Fionn Whitehead) begins leading most of the group in debauchery while Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Sela (Lily Rose-Depp) attempt to hold everyone from the brink of destruction.
Look, there are some highly ambitious goals set down in the film that don’t come to true fruition at any point. There’s gold in these hills, but Neil Burger is more interested in the quiet drama playing out between the leaders of the two factions. The idea of taking William Golding’s tale of brutal human nature to space is a fun one, but what’s offered here is more parody than pastiche. Sometimes sparks fly in these situations and interesting discussions can come out of them (like Morten Tyldum’s Passengers, which was a bad film that sparked a good talk about toxic relationships), but when the script is this anemic the blood just isn’t pumping like it should be.
Whether or not you enjoy the film as a whole is fine, but let’s not bully poor Tye Sheridan on this one. Or Lily Rose-Depp. Or Fionn Whitehead. I felt bad for this trio throughout the entire runtime, all talented young performers that are regrettably wasted in this high-concept experiment. Whitehead is a particularly interesting young talent, a neophyte breakout in Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk that led to an interesting career. His villainous turn here as an older, sexier, space-faring Jack Merridew reek more of Snidley Whiplash than he does of William Golding, but he commits to his role with enough gusto to make it plausible. Unlikeable characters make for less interesting villains, but sometimes you just want to hate your antagonist. In the hands of a less-capable performer this would have fallen flat on its face, but Whitehead’s genuine chemistry with Sheridan makes a mountain out of a molehill.
Sheridan is doing the lion’s share of the protagonist work. He reeks of Boy Scout energy, but it’s enough to feel sympathy for the guy. Rose-Depp isn’t helping him at all, delivering a flat and emotionless performance that I have no doubt she was directed to give. While neither character is as electric as Whitehead’s villain, I can’t help but fault Neil Burger instead of these two. Rose-Depp hasn’t had a particularly interesting career, instead just working with family friends, but Sheridan brings a heap of baggage lain on him by Terrence Malick and Steven Spielberg. Their pedigrees demand more than they’re given to work with, and their potential romance is akin to the drums in Tolkien’s Mines of Moria – a herald of the dangers to come. Watching Lily Rose-Depp get saved from a sexual assault by Colin Farrell and having absolutely no emotions displayed across the board just kills the entire mood.
With all the dreary character issues, I’ve got to point out the proverbial “nail in the coffin.” Space is cool as all hell, so when it’s made to look this boring I get pissed. The ship is sterile and boring, both in and out, and the stars themselves feel more like a Windows Media Player display than they do the majesty of the cosmos. Voyagers is an ugly little film, one that could hardly hold any attention.
This thing wasn’t a complete dud. I get all hot and bothered any time we get a movie about space, but it makes for an even more disappointing experience when it feels this flat. The greatest problem a film can have is to be boring, and Neil Burger has created a predictable experience that’s slavishly loyal to his source material. I didn’t hate it (and I’d have probably enjoyed it more in a theatre), but it’s nothing I’ll revisit.
Voyagers is available in theatres and to rent on standard streaming locations.