Voyagers is pretty standard sci-fi fare, but if you love watching societal norms break down in the prettiest way possible, you can’t go wrong.
It’s been a long time since we got the kind of big-budget sci-fi story Voyagers offers. The theaters have been closed, and productions shut down virtually ensuring it would be a while before we saw anything so obviously hedonistic. I have to admit I was excited about this carnal delight. I’m always down for wish fulfillment, and it delivers in a big way. Originally slated to release last year, Lionsgate pushed the release to a more theater-friendly time frame. Out on April 9th, Voyagers is an impeccably shot film that highlights exactly why it’s a bad idea to lie to a group of teens in space. Pleasure comes at a steep price in this stylish thriller about our most primitive selves. Who would you become if no one was looking?
This is Neil Burger’s neon-drenched world where impossibly perfect because they were engineered that way, teens get guidance and roofied by blue Koolaid to keep them docile and focused until they reach their far-space destination. They represent the best of civilization. A gaggle of genetically engineered specimens boards a gorgeously lit austere spacecraft with grizzled and soulful Colin Farrell on a one-way mission to a possible second habitable planet. We managed to finish the destruction of our Earth and thus the need for an alternative. The idea is the teens will grow from young children to adulthood, have children of their own, and so on until their grandchildren land on the new planet.
To keep them concentrating on their training, Richard gives them “Blue” to tamp down their curiosity, fear, passion, greed, and lust for power. Did I mention he lies to them about what the supplement does and that they are hyper-smart with constant access to diagnostic equipment? What could go wrong? As you can imagine, as the kids age and get more intelligent, they question the supplement. When an accident finds them lacking a clear leader, all of the kids embrace their wild side with mixed results.
Unfortunately, when the newly hormone-juiced teens go off their meds, it’s a free for all of sex, violence, and abject terror. What happens when every impulse you ever had has been repressed your whole life against your will? Now imagine being a teenager with hormones surging and that newfound knowledge. It is sheer chaos, albeit glorious, gorgeous chaos. There is fighting, dancing, jockeying for position, and lots of touching, groping, kissing, and other things ending in ing. What follows is low-key insanity.
That’s essentially the problem with Voyagers; everything is a bit watered down. The sex isn’t quite as unadulterated, and the violence comes off more like a genetic defect than a result of unneutered young men. The teens have been stripped of their emotions for so long you either get over-the-top blood lust or stoic concern. There’s a possible alien enemy plot beat that could have been more, and the ending rings a little too sunny for everything we see happen in the bulk of the film. All in all, it’s a guilty pleasure that will hold your attention for the entire run time if for nothing else than how pretty it looks.
Burger who wrote and directed Voyagers, has a solid track record with these kinds of fast-paced science fiction thrillers. Limitless and Divergent were huge successes, and The Illusionist is a grossly underappreciated film packed with incredible performances and beautiful imagery. Voyager continues that trend. The cast is a who’s who of young genre actors. Lily-Rose Depp(Sela) from Silent Night and Tye Sheridan(Christopher) from Ready Player One and X-Men: Apocolypse are sympathetic and sweet enough to make your teeth ache, while Fionn Whitehead(Zac) of Dunkirk and Black Mirror Bandersnatch is gleefully indulgent and aggressive. Sheridan’s determined jaw and tender eyes serve as the audience’s point of view, and Depp’s serious countenance is our conscience. Whitehead is a standout as the embodiment of debauchery. His scene-stealing turn halfway through the film is star-making.
Farrell’s Richard elected to make the trip with them knowing he was sacrificing his life because he thought it would give them the best chance to survive in space. Farrell gets minimal backstory both before and after launch, but he is surprisingly kind and selfless. Everything you need to know about Voyagers is in his casting. He is a good actor that is rogueish and more competent than he gets credit for. He is the mentor and, quite frankly, jailer, all while looking like someone’s extra hot dad.
Voyagers is quick-paced, and little time is spent on the mundane details of the failing earth or the decision-making behind the “Blue.” That benefits the film, which is sold as an orgy in space and has the time to deliver all the juicy details. It’s Lord of the Flies, complete with morality plays and pointy objects. Survival of the fittest, and when the teens break bad, they dive deep into their desires and impulses. It’s super fun for about two seconds, and then all rules go out the door, and the party’s over. When bodies start to drop, it’s time to call it a night, but it’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle. Some might quibble over the speed at which the kids descend, but anyone who has ever lived with a teenager knows their moods can be that mercurial.
Voyagers wants to ask some big questions. Who are we at our most base selves? Who would we be if given a chance to do anything? Are humans inherently flawed? How rebellious would you be if you were drugged and lied to? Burger’s film asks and answers all of these. You won’t always be satisfied with the results, though. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and we have nothing but some teens drinking Blue Hawaii. I can think of worse ways to spend a few hours.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.