Dir: Neil Burger, 15 Cert, 108 min
William Golding’s brutal morality fable, Lord of the Flies, is not an obvious candidate for a slick science fiction reboot. Director Neil Burger (Limitless, Divergent) nonetheless attempts just that with Voyagers, in which a crew of photogenic young people become prisoner to their bestial instincts during a deep-space odyssey.
The problem is that, while Burger takes the bare bones of Golding’s story (though the glaring debt to Lord of the Flies is never acknowledged), he fails to reproduce its air of asphyxiating dread. Instead he cobbles together a low-grade thriller that plays out like a zero-gravity Hollyoaks.
Burger has, to his credit, assembled a meaty cast. Heading the ensemble are Colin Farrell, Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead and Lily-Rose Depp, 22-year-old daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis.
Farrell is Richard, an idealistic if not always truthful scientific mentor to a collective of children who are to be blasted into space in an attempt to save humanity from looming environmental catastrophe. With the nearest earth-like planet 83 years away, Richard’s plan is to establish a interstellar dynasty. The 30 children he has brought on board the ship will probably die long before they arrive at their destination. By then, though, they will have children and grandchildren – who will be alive as the planet is reached.
But the stars fall out of alignment as the crew reaches late adolescence. Rebellious best friends Christopher (Ready Player One’s Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Whitehead) discover that the mouthwash-like liquid the kids are required to drink every morning suppresses their behaviour. The idea is to prevent their hormones running riot and, thus, keep in check their raw human instincts.
With the secret revealed, they stop taking their happy juice. Mayhem ensues and, with Richard soon out of the picture, Chris is elected ship’s leader. However, he has a nasty rival in Zac, who whips up the mob – including Game of Thrones’s Isaac Hempstead Wright – against his former friend. With all those troublesome hormones raging, the pair also develop a love rivalry over Sela (Depp).
Farrell, surrounded by fresh-faced young actors, looks ill at ease. He’s clearly at a stage in his career where he’s happier getting his hands dirty in grizzled dramas such as The North Water rather than ticking off the cliches in a clunking sci-fi romp.
Sheridan, Whitehead and Depp, by contrast, do their best to breath life into a script weighed down by lines such as “It’s a one way trip, there’s no going back” and “decreased pleasure response…? I want INCREASED pleasure response.” Depp, in particular, brings an impressive forcefulness to the flimsy part of token love interest.
No homage to Lord of the Flies would be complete without a hidden monster sewing paranoia. In Voyagers, the crew, having finally all sworn off the blue liquid, become convinced an alien is responsible for an early mishap that raises the stakes and forces the kids to take control of their destiny.
Alas, the big reveal about the beast’s identity lands as flatly as the rest of the film. And despite its ambitious goal of transposing a dystopian classic to the modern “Young Adult” genre, Voyagers is ultimately about as effective as a leaky space-suit.
On Sky Cinema and NOW TV from Friday October 8