A colonial spaceship of 30 young adults is destined for humanity’s new home; hormonal hijinks ensue, naturally, but it seems like writer/director Neil Burger picked up all the wrong tips from making Insurgent when it comes to YA storytelling.
While largely devoid of adult characters, save for Colin Farrell as the surrogate captain, the way the premise is set up is eerily reminiscent of Hunger Games-era adaptations, where teenagers are expected to save the world that the adults screwed up, albeit by moving to an entirely new world. It also falls into many of the same logic holes as its retroactive competition (when the YA adaptation trend has mainly shifted over to Wattpad), where the story at large doesn’t make much sense and, worse, feels like it was specifically engineered in-universe just so things would go wrong, and we’d even have a story to watch unfold. One adult taking care of (and lying to) 30-some teenagers; what could possibly go wrong?
Narratively, quite a bit, particularly in how Burger appears far too eager to give up plot developments before they’ve had a chance to take effect. The premise hints at chances for proper paranoia-driven thrills, with the passengers getting in touch with their primal instincts, while something might be waiting just outside the ship to attack them all; it proffers a similar ‘which is worse?’ dilemma as 10 Cloverfield Lane. Except the filmmakers seem determined to cut any intrigue off at the pass, focusing far more on the characters’ reactions to events than building up any mystery about those events.
Which isn’t the best idea when the characters are not that interesting. Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead gets to channel his inner Miles Teller as the douchey but entertaining bad guy, but everyone else? It’s as if the plot point about drugs meant to hinder emotions was written in after the fact to excuse how lifeless they all are. Muted emotion gets confused with complete lack of emotion in what amounts to a high school production of Lords Of The Flies, but with the detailed social structure and characterisation ripped out and replaced with a cluster of chuckleheads.
Voyagers has pretences of showing teenagers making choices about morality and tribalism, but only does so through artificial contrivance so prevalent that it’s practically part of the narrative itself. Every decision made on either side of the camera is all too obvious (and more than a little stupid if thought about for too long), and in between the limp acting and the obnoxious editing, all it amounts to is High Life for teens, made by someone who doesn’t think that highly of the average teenager, either on-screen or in the audience. It’s not as transparently nonsensical as Burger’s Insurgent, but it still shows him stuck on that same track to unsatisfying filmmaking.