"Nobody chooses what they're born into."
Writer-director Neil Burger's visually stimulating but conceptually lacking sci-fi thriller Voyagers is practically Lord of the Flies in space. Or The Hunger Games, you guessed it, in space. There's no avoiding the comparison. As a result, the film's bones aren't entirely original. In fact, a lack of depth and maturity prove its most frustrating quality.
A strong, talented cast, along with a stylistic set design, pave the way for the film's ultimate success. Long, endless corridors provide sprinting lanes for the film's most intense sequences, allowing cinematographer Enrique Chediak to work his magic, capturing the confined spaceship in a magical light, allowing the film to be a surprisingly easy watch.
That said, Voyagers struggles mightily from a lack of interesting players, none of which yearn for your attention, sympathy, or goodwill as they navigate their structured surroundings, a feat accomplished by way of a drug that suppresses their senses. When the young people liberate themselves from the drug, opening themselves up to lust, jealously, fury, and violence, their once controlled existence begins to unravel.
As the Earth's temperature continues to rise, causing an unprecedented amount of drought and disease, scientists work to discover a planet that can sustain life and preserve the species. In 2063 they find one containing an abundance of oxygen and water. Richard (Colin Farrell) is tasked with training the First Generation passengers, a group of children, conceived in test tubes, who will reproduce on the ship, their grandchildren serving as the first colonist at the end of the brutal 86 year mission.
These children are raised in complete isolation. The approach is meant to spare them the mental anguish of processing the things they are leaving behind. If they don't know it exists, how can they miss it?
Though the plan is for the kids to begin their mission alone, Richard grows an attachment to his subjects, successfully petitioning to join them on the mission to help raise and protect them. Though they will be well educated, their lack of real-world experience is a cause for concern.
When their actions skip forward ten years, the adorable, well-behaved children are replaced with bland, interchangeable adolescents who yearn for a personality. Granted, to an extent, this is the point of the story - complete control over your subjects provides the most likely controlled outcome. Every day they line up for a glass of "The Blue," a supposed supplement that is actually a drug that suppresses their emotions, sectioning off the neurons that help them feel pleasure and pain.
Quick-paced throughout, plot points are hit and forgotten in a matter of minutes as intelligent, curious Christopher (Tye Sheridan) discovers the drug hidden within their supplement. Feeling betrayed, he seeks input from his friend Zac (Fionn Whitehead). Together they stop taking their daily dose, setting off a chain of events that see a pronounced spike in testosterone.
Whether sprinting down the ship's corridors or wrestling in the gym, the two become a sight for the other crew members on board. Though no one is yet in on the game, they soon will follow suit. When violence and sexual advances begin to occur, Richard reminds the team of the rules. But as with any ordinary human, once you get a feel for breaking the structure, identifying as an individual who does as they wish, it's difficult to reverse course.
When the time comes to choose a new chief officer, the group elects Christopher. This decision doesn't sit well with Zac, whose aggression appears to be growing exponentially. Through the art of fear, Zac works to pull in others, creating a splinter group that challenges the need for structure, undermining Christopher's attempt to control the chaos and return the ship to working condition.
By this point, the film's primary storyline has run its course. The impending power struggle quickly comes to fruition, as does the standoff between proverbial good and evil. Burger (Divergent, Limitless) does fine with the film, but it undoubtedly sings similar notes to his past projects. His young, capable cast delivers; however, it's hard to ignore that outside of Sheridan, Whitehead, and Lily-Rose Depp, few get the time or space to excel. Even Farrell is painfully handcuffed.
Though the film doesn't bear any false claims to its purpose and place within the context of the genre, the director does seem a bit preoccupied with his analysis of human nature, notably when all structure and control are removed. So much so that he fails to realize the opportunity he had to craft a tense, anxiety-inducing space thriller. But then again, to pull that off, his characters would have had to have some level of a pulse.