When I first saw the trailer for this film, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But the cast convinced me I should check it out. I’ve enjoyed Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley in their other films. Then I read a description for the movie with the concept laid out and I was hooked on seeing it. I was excited to see whether this would be a new spin on telepathy. Science fiction has long explored the concept in books and film but film hasn’t always developed it well. This movie is an exception. Not only does it do a fantastic job of exploring the concept, based on a book, but it is a genuinely original exploration of the idea. Add in incredible acting and detailed worldbuilding, this movie was imaginative and compelling.
Chaos Walking directed by Doug Liman with the screenplay written by Patrick Ness and Christopher Ford is based on the sci-fi trilogy “Chaos Walking,” adapted from the first book The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. In the film, young Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) finds a mysterious girl, Viola (Daisy Ridley). Todd and all the men of the planet are afflicted with ‘The Noise”, a force that puts all their thoughts on display. When Viola arrives, we learn that her thoughts are silent and all the women have mysteriously disappeared. Viola’s life becomes endangered by the mayor of Prentiss town, David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelson), and the priest Aaron (David Oyelowo). Todd vows to protect Viola so his father Ben (Demián Bichir) sends him to Farbranch. As Todd and Viola escape, they learn dark secrets about Prentiss town and the world. Todd must unlock inner powers in order to protect both of them from those that would do them harm.
What is most thrilling about this sci-fi adventure is the concept. Telepaths aren’t that unusual in television or books but the idea of having so little control over your thoughts and feelings is different. In the film, all of the men’s thoughts are projected in snippets of sound or images whether they want those thoughts on display or not. Worse, because of those thoughts, life on the planet can easily find them. However, women are silent. This creates an inequality that is equally intriguing, raising questions of how the women deal with hearing the men constantly but also what happens when the men don’t want their thoughts heard or are afraid of what will come out of their minds. The exploration of these ideas is what makes the story so compelling. The writing unwinds the ideas a bit at a time, introducing them and then illustrating what could happen. It is a brilliant idea well executed.
Part of that execution is the special effects surrounding “The Noise”. In the movie, we hear all of every man’s thoughts. It is displayed with colored lights and bursts of voices, a cacophony at times of sound never spoken aloud. And while there are points in the film where Todd wishes to remain silent, he can never gain enough control to do so, his thoughts slipping free, even when there are secrets he wants to keep. Even when the men sleep, their dreams linger in the air, images above them with sounds escaping. The imagery is well-executed, as images can even be created, illusions built by the mind and projected by those with enough control to provide form to their thoughts. It is beautiful, simple, and elegant.
The worldbuilding is detailed. In the beginning, the viewer is not told this is a different planet but shown as Todd hunts for food for his dog. Viola’s abilities are also illustrated through action but as Todd and she look for safety, more of the planet is explained and shown, as they explore and as they both learn more of the secrets of this world. We learn quickly that there is intelligent life on the planet, the Spackles, who Todd believes wiped out the women of their town. There is just enough alien blended with the normal to create an unusual yet intriguing world that easily could yield more films.
The acting matches the excellent writing. Tom Holland portrays his character perfectly. With the character kept protected for most of his life, Tom blends strength and innocence. While he illustrates curiosity and fear about Viola, the character’s strength is in his willingness to learn and Tom Holland does a brilliant job of showing the audience those emotions. Daisy Ridley is dynamic as Viola, her character scared but determined to get to safety. The chemistry between the two is beautifully done and I love that they develop a friendship first. Mads Mikkelson along with David Oyelowo both are fantastic. As David Prentiss, Mads is both cruel but also intelligent. As the priest of the town, David Oyelowo’s portrayal as Aaron is of a frighteningly intense fanatic, the perfect tone for a religious zealot. Demián Bichir along with Kurt Sutter, playing Cillian Boyd, Todd’s other adoptive father, both portray their characters as kind and protective, solid performances. Cynthia Erivo as the mayor of Farbranch, Hildy Black, has a strong performance as well, her character caring and independent.
There are times when the story is predictable. I do think that some of that is due to having read and watched science fiction my entire life. While the concept was original, the psychology of behavior was not as unusual. Most people do behave in predictable manners when threatened so while there are mysteries, they were simple enough to puzzle out if you’re familiar with how individuals will act under certain scenarios. Despite that predictable element, though, the story was engaging, the characters complex and interesting, and the story well-executed.
If you love science fiction that is both well developed with original ideas and good acting, this is a movie you will want to watch. Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley do a fantastic job in their performances as do the rest of the cast. I loved the details of the world and I especially enjoyed the development of “The Noise” as well as how it is depicted, how the special effects designed how it would all work. This is truly an imaginative and creative idea with a compelling story and excellent acting.
Chaos Walking opens exclusively in theaters and IMAX on Friday, March 5th, 2021.