The world is increasingly inhospitable and the human race faces extinction if it can’t find a new planet for its home. It’s an increasingly popular starting point for sci fi movies and, given current climate change issues, one that’s based perhaps on more fact and a little less fiction. The possibilities are intriguing and, in Neil Burger’s Voyagers, there’s a planet 86 years away which could completely fit the bill. But it needs checking out first.
That timescale dictates something more than simply sending a few astronauts into space so, under the direction of benevolent scientist Richard (Colin Farrell), the crew is genetically engineered and grow up in an isolated location, designed to simulate a space station. As young adults, the highly trained group are launched on their mission, knowing they’ll never reach their destination but their children and grandchildren will. En route, they discover that one of their daily drinks has been designed to make them more docile – supress their natural desires and feelings – and, when some of them decide to stop taking it, it triggers a series of events that threaten the entire mission.
A promising concept. This is a group that’s grown up without any outside influences, so how would they react when freed of one of the many controls over their lives? Sadly, the answer is disappointingly superficial in a narrative that echoes sources from Lord Of The Flies to Alien (just look at the opening title sequence) and matches up to neither. Instead, we’re presented with a film that seems to have been made with a YA audience in mind, even if the inherent subject matter is most definitely for an older age group. It’s as if Burger, who also wrote the script, is reluctant and almost too coy to steer the premise along a more adventurous and interesting route, sticking to a quasi-political analogy of the most cumbersome variety. He may be working with a young cast, but that doesn’t mean that should be the film’s natural audience.
And it’s a cast made up of some strong young talent – Fionn Whitehead, Tye Sheridan and Lily-Rose Depp are the trio at the heart of the would-be psychological action – but their near-android acting styles and flat delivery mean there’s little to engage the audience. Even Colin Farrell is strangely subdued, prompting the conclusion that it wasn’t just the kids who were quaffing that pacifying drink. Burger does have an eye for a strong image, though, creating a striking interior for the space ship, one with never-ending corridors and cold colours where humans don’t seem to belong. It may not be wholly original, again harking back to previous space travel classics, but it’s done effectively, with a strong sense of sinister sterility.
But what should be a voyage into the unknown soon takes us into the familiar. What should be dangerous is safe to the point of being sanitised. And Voyagers isn’t so much a trip as a slog.
Drama, Science Fiction | Cert: 15 | Sky Cinema, 8 October | Dir. Neil Burger | Fionn Whitehead, Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Colin Farrell.