Essentially a zero-gravity “Lord of the Flies,” Neil Burger’s “Voyagers” nevertheless plays like a CW sci-fi pilot for those who find “The 100” too unsanitary. Set aboard a sterile spaceship hurtling toward a distant planet — though any claustrophobic, closed-off environment would have served just as well — this dull dig into human nature owes more to the aesthetics of Calvin Klein than the terrors of outer space.
The year is 2063, Earth is heating up, and a couple of dozen children have been trained to colonize a new world. Bred for intelligence and compliance, these docile pioneers, watched over by a sad-eyed surrogate father named Richard (Colin Farrell), begin an 86-year journey. Almost all will be dead before they reach their destination, so they have been designed to reproduce at timed intervals. Considering they’ve all grown into lissome, blandly attractive young adults, this should not be a problem.
We soon learn, though, that the crew’s universally robotic affect is not simply a deficit in the cast’s acting ability, but the result of a sedative designed to suppress emotion. Figuring this out, Christopher (Tye Sheridan, all pout and pique) and his friend Zac (Fionn Whitehead, in the film’s only vivid performance), stop taking the substance and discover that they’re both hot for the same woman (Lily-Rose Depp). In short order, the noncompliance spreads and the situation on board devolves predictably into an orgy of dancing, wrestling, copulating and running down long corridors. Worse is to follow.
A movie of cold light and hard surfaces, “Voyagers” owes its antiseptic glamour to the cinematographer Enrique Chediak, whose talents far outclass Burger’s underdeveloped script. Mysteries abound, including why Richard (who has been sidelined by an incident I won’t spoil) chose to accompany the voyagers, and why he wears a permanently pained expression.
“I wouldn’t miss a thing,” he tells superiors before he leaves Earth, hinting at a tragic past that’s never explained. Neither is the alien that might be messing around outside the ship — or, as the increasingly maniacal Zac suggests, inside one or more of the crew.
In replicating a society torn apart by lies and fear and gaslighting, “Voyagers” might feel, for some, a bit too close to home for comfort. And as the chaos and violence escalated and rival factions formed, I amused myself by pondering who might be running the ship. I concluded it was the alien.
Rated PG-13 for picturesque coupling and ugly behavior. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.
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