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Review: Crafty sci-fi thriller 'Voyagers' doesn't get lost in space

Courtesy of Lionsgate


“Voyagers” – a crafty new thriller from Neil Burger – won’t get bonus points for the most original sci-fi adventure, but it gets credit for bringing together a commendable group of young, diverse, actors and delivering above its, admittedly, low expectations. Though his attempts to jumpstart the “Divergent” franchise stalled, Burger cranks up the heat in “Voyagers” which doesn’t feature biomechanically engineered mutations or gooey, limb chomping aliens, but horny teenagers eager to mingle. Even if the screenplay – also penned by Burger – can’t resist its more predictable elements, watching the deconstruction of a close-knit society through political manipulation and scare tactics is the type of mindless escapism audiences could use right now.

A cross between “Crimson Tide,” “The Stanford Prison Experiment” and – its most obvious influence – “Lord of the Flies,” “Voyagers” dabbles with ideas of mortality and mutiny among kids yearning for a higher power. The film takes place in the not-so-distant future where earth is on life support and society is searching the galaxy for a new sanctuary. The planet they find will take a crisp 86-year trek, so a crew of lab bred astronauts are manufactured for the hike. None of the shipmates will see the new planet, however, they’ll genetically reproduce, leaving their grandchildren to complete the haul.

Along for the ride is Richard (Colin Farrell), the only sole on earth willing to leave behind his tragedy filled life to raise the first batch of voyagers. Fast forward about a decade, and the travelers are now young adults performing their tasks and duties, no questions asked – until Christopher (Tye Sheridan) uncovers a hidden chemical within “the Blue” – a mandated drink that everyone aboard takes– that diminishes urges and reduces pleasure. Naturally, Christopher and his roommate/friend Zac (Fionn Whitehead of “Dunkirk” fame) stop taking their daily dose and the effects are instantaneous. They’re rowdier, careless, and begin noticing features of the female anatomy and vie for Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) – the ship’s chief medical officer – attention. Suddenly, everyone stops ingesting the Kool-Aid and chaos ensues with Zac asserting his dominance by convincing others an “alien” is loose on the ship. Of course, when anyone opposes him, the narrative gets flipped: “well maybe you’re the alien” and they’re locked up, or worse, killed.

Watching the shifting dynamics and allegiances play out in real time creates suspense in tight corridors and production designer Scott Chambliss facilities an intergalactic playground for an engaging game of cat and mouse. The evolution of the young actors from emotionless characters to full-blown commandos is quite striking and Burger captures that energy despite some performers getting lost amid a larger ensemble. It helps you to seemingly pick apart who will choose which side of the aisle to be on and when the battle royale begins, you can assert the good from evil. Whitehead gets the meatiest role playing the charismatic villain and he absolutely crushes it, helping foster an easily digestible and thrilling expenditure that, surprisingly, doesn’t get lost in space.

Grade: B

VOYAGERS opens in theaters Friday, April 9th


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