Chaos Walking has had rather a bumpy ride to release. It was a full decade ago that the dystopian sci-fi thriller announced it was going into production, based on a YA series of novels by British-American author Patrick Ness. A ton of script rewrites later – including a first draft by Charlie Kaufman, which might actually have been worth sticking with considering the final result’s clunky dialogue – and shooting finally began in 2017, with Doug Liman of The Bourne Identity in the director’s chair. Set for release back in 2019, some rather unfavourable test screenings meant whole swathes of the film demanded a reshoot, and now we find ourselves two years later with the finished and messy product.
A big concept movie, Chaos Walking dumps us unceremoniously on a planet called New World in the year 2257 AD, millions of miles away from Earth, in a small men-only community called Prentisstown. Here the residents are all affected by a kind of psychic energy called ‘The Noise’, which means you can see and hear everyone else’s thoughts, which buzz above their heads like a swarm of flies committed to grassing you up at every opportunity. If the idea of a shouty mumble that runs through almost every scene of the film sounds annoying, then you’d be right, especially considering the fact that most of the time we’re hearing the internal monologue of a lonely 20-something man – and my god, who in their right mind would ever willingly want to hear such a thing.
To his credit, that young man – Tom Holland’s Todd Hewitt – is relatively sweet and harmless. It’s just most of the other men in Prentisstown who seem to be violent grunts, led by the town’s sinister mayor, Mads Mikkelsen in a flamboyant fur coat that seems pinched off of Warren Beatty from 1971’s iconic Robert Altman film McCabe & Mrs Miller, in one of the movie’s numerous nods to classic westerns.
You can understand then, guileless Todd’s excitement when a spaceship crash-lands near his village and brings with it the first woman he’s ever met. Instantly Todd feels the need to protect her, though it turns out that Viola – a stoic Daisy Ridley – is quite capable of doing that herself. And so begins a quest across the New World in which Viola attempts to get herself back to her home ship and away from the Prentisstown men who want to hijack it, while Todd discovers a few terrifying home truths about just exactly what happened to the women of Prentisstown.
The trouble with the irritating concept of ‘The Noise’ is that it’s almost impossible for anyone to keep any kind of secret, meaning that Chaos Walking struggles to maintain a sense of mystery. Even when the big shocker about the fate of the New World’s women is revealed, you can see it coming a mile off. Less of a chaotic walk, and more of a dreary plod.
- Director: Doug Liman
- Starring: Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen
- Release date: April 2 (video on demand)