Chaos Walking: Bland and irritating sci-fi wastes an intriguing story

Tom Holland has certainly impressed me within the past year. Admittedly, I’m not au fait whatsoever with his Spiderman tenure, but his turns in The Devil All The Time and the frequently savaged Cherry undoubtedly showcase the very promising talents of a young up-and-comer with an interesting future ahead of him. I know it may come off as extremely trite quote-whoring, but the term ‘brooding intensity’ applies with all positive possible connotations. He played the two aforementioned titles with style and heart, piquing my anticipation for projects that have his name attached.

Unfortunately, his latest venture Chaos Walking does no justice to any of that whatsoever. Wasting the talents of Holland, Daisy Ridley and even Mads Mikkelsen, Doug Liman’s adaptation of Patrick Ness’ novel The Knife of Never Letting Go is pretty damn frustrating in the way that it takes a fascinating high concept and throws it into the blender of rote tedium.

The film opens in the year 2257 AD on New World. A planet that was colonised a few years prior by inhabitants of Earth, New World has no female population, the human womenfolk having been eradicated by New World’s indigenous dominant species, the Spackle. Todd Hewitt (Holland) is a young boy who lives in Prentisstown with his two adoptive fathers Ben (Demian Bichir) and Cillian (Kurt Sutter). Prentisstown is a small settlement presided over by the menacing Mayor David Prentiss (Mikkelsen) and his slimy son David (Nick Jonas, for some reason). As is the much-expounded settler lore in Prentisstown, the Spackle released a virus that proved especially fatal to women and half of the male population, the remaining men and boys being lumbered with a condition known as ‘The Noise’, a phenomenon that causes all of them to see and hear each other’s thoughts at all times in neverending cacophony.

One day, Todd is working with his two dads when he spots a mysterious figure rummaging around their homestead. He gives chase, only to come across the ruins of a downed spacecraft, something he tries to remain quiet about to avoid trouble but, remember, everyone’s got to put up with that annoying bastard Noise that broadcasts one’s thoughts to all and sundry. After Mayor Prentiss and the other men catch wind of Todd’s thoughts about the spacecraft, they set out on a search party in the surrounding woods, Todd getting caught on his lonesome and running into the ship’s lone survivor, Viola (Ridley). To his insurmountable shock, she’s a girl, the first one he has ever laid eyes upon. Amid Todd’s loudly intrusive Noise thoughts about how pretty her hair is, Viola is captured by Mayor Prentiss and brought to his quarters for interrogation.

She manages to escape and gets hidden in a barn by Todd and his dads, the latter two informing our hero that if he truly wishes to protect Viola from harm, he will need to escort her to Farbranch, a faraway settlement that has women and girls among their population. Viola manages to escape an ambush by the Mayor and the men of Prentisstown and Todd gives chase once more into the surrounding woods. Accompanied by his faithful dog Manchee, Todd is committed to guiding Viola safely to Farbranch, the journey giving way to culture clash, self-discovery and Todd’s wrestling with horny teen boy crushing. With Viola encouraging Todd’s increasing questioning and disillusionment with Mayor Prentiss’ stranglehold and explanation of total female disappearance, Todd finds himself struggling with everything he’s been raised to know and believe while getting acquainted with the charmingly mysterious stranger beside him.

So, what cool things can we say about Chaos Walking? Well, nothing really. It’s so boring. Becoming privy to the aforementioned ‘Noise’, you’d be forgiven for assuming that there might be some substantive dissection of said phenomenon’s potential ramifications, the problems that could be caused by the unmitigated airing of private rumination, including all of the dark and weird shit that pops into people’s heads for whatever reason, right? Yeah, none of that happens. The Noise itself is presented in a garish and distracting fashion that immediately gets down to testing the limits of patience, even though it’s meant to underpin Todd’s entire being. It ultimately becomes an aggravating gimmick with no real point, the screenplay predicated on a mechanical chase set-up that could easily be plucked from a paperback Western with no need for any mass telepathy madness. Throw in Mikkelsen’s strange cowboyish get-up, and it does nothing but cement the fact that Chaos Walking really is just a Western with tons of utterly superfluous shite thrown carelessly on top of it.

Ben Seresin’s cinematography and the score by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts are unremarkable at best and cringey overkill at worst, a further testament to the film’s apparent witlessness regarding its genre or trajectory. I was hitherto only familiar with Ridley in her capacity as Rey in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and while she’s a fine performer if not especially mind-blowing, she joins the demonstrably talented Holland in being given absolutely nothing to work with here. The only player who comes close to memorable in Chaos Walking‘s dire screenplay is the justly acclaimed Mads Mikkelsen, although the cookie-cutter villainy of Mayor Prentiss just squanders the Great Dane’s brilliance. The supporting cast is nothing to shout about whatsoever. This review is in danger of turning into several more paragraphs of what I’ve already impressed with varied wording, so just take my word for it: it’s lame, it offers no insight or vicariousness, it is utterly useless with the talented cast at hand and I’ll eat my non-existent hat if you don’t immediately forget it after the credits roll. Please, stick on that boxset you’ve seen a thousand times yet still want to plough through again anyway, it’ll be so much better for you.

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