Movie Review ~ Voyagers

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The Facts:

Synopsis: With the future of the human race at stake, a group of young men and women embark on an expedition to colonize a distant planet. But when they uncover disturbing secrets about the mission, they defy their training and begin to explore their most primitive natures.

Stars: Colin Farrell, Lily-Rose Depp, Tye Sheridan, Fionn Whitehead, Archie Madekwe, Chanté Adams, Quintessa Swindel, Madison Hu, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Viveik Kalra

Director: Neil Burger

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: It’s an odd thing to look over the IMDb credits for director Neil Burger and see just how many of his films have found eerie similarities in other work.  Though it technically came out first, 2006’s The Illusionist is often dwarfed in memory by Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige which also featured dueling magicians and a woman that causes trouble between them.  The surprise 2011 hit Limitless may have secured some box office clout for Bradley Cooper but it had all the calling cards of a Luc Besson film just without the Frenchman’s guts to go truly wild.  Burger was behind the start of the Divergent series which was on shaky legs even in 2014 when it suffered big time comparisons to The Hunger Games, and this was before it released two more Burger-less sequels that were so bad they didn’t bother to even make the last movie.  Remaking the French blockbuster The Intouchables as The Upside in 2017 seemed like a ghastly prospect but while Burger’s take was harmless it made so much money that who directed it didn’t seem to matter much.

That brings us to Voyagers, which won’t remind you so much of any movie you’ve seen recently but perhaps a book you may have trotted out during quarantine.  Plenty of reviews of Burger’s new sci-fi yarn will correctly label it as Lord of the Flies set in space but to just put it in that ready-made box is doing a disservice to William Golding’s 1954 morality barometer disguised as a dystopian novel as well as this Lionsgate production which is entertainment at its coldest and most obvious.  Yes, it follows an uprising that divides two factions of young adults left to fend for themselves in a solitude from which there is no hope of escape, but Burger doesn’t forget what his job is in this concoction.  His audience isn’t at home under the covers reading a browning paperback by flashlight.  They’re in a theater (if you’re into that kind of thing being fully vaccinated and/or masked up) where this film opens on Friday or, as Voyagers will be in several weeks, in their homes waiting for the fun to begin.

With the Earth’s resources being depleted at a rapid rate, scientists continue to explore the boundaries of space for signs that there could be another planet humans could survive on.  Forty years from now, that planet is found but it will take another 86 years to get there.  A crew will need to be assembled to travel to this new world and report back what they find, but due to the time it will take to get there the crew that starts out the mission won’t be the ones that actually make the discovery…their grandchildren will.  Unable to find a crew of thirty to make that commitment, the team behind the mission resort to conceiving them via IVF with, ahem, contributions from the best and brightest minds of the day.

Watching over these children as they grow (literally) is Richard (Colin Farrell, Dumbo) a scientist that winds up being the sole chaperone when the young crew finally enter space and begin their journey.  Ten years later, the group are now teens that go about their daily ship business with a detached efficiency that’s only upset after Christopher (Tye Sheridan, Mud) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead, Dunkirk) stop taking ‘the blue’, a daily dose of liquid they discover has a mood controlling and sensory dulling drug added in.  Free to finally feel for the first time, the rest of the squad follows suit including Sela (Lily-Rose Depp, Tusk) the pretty chief medical officer that’s both a confidant to Richard and his bridge to the other teens.  Sela also begins to catch the eye of the newly hormonal Christopher and Zac, both fueled by alpha male frustration that’s built up for quite some time. 

After an accident leaves them stranded, on their own, and unable to communicate with Earth, at first the niceties of protocol are followed until Zac and others (including Midsommar’s Archie Madekwe) realize that no one is going to hold them accountable for stepping out of line.  They’ve been bred to produce and that’s all so why not take as much as they want, when they want it, while they can?  This pits former friends against one another and forces all to take sides.  The wider the division gets, the larger the danger of everyone losing in the end becomes.   

It’s easy to be a bit confused by Voyagers at first glance.  The trailers make it look like a clunky C-list castoff you’d settle on when all else fails and the poster gives off the impression it’s more of an erotic trip into teen space angst.  So I was surprised that the first half of the film gets off to a rather crackling start, luring the audience in with an engaging premise and laying the groundwork for an intriguing mystery that might factor into the plot (I won’t spoil it).  Burger takes his time with things…at first.  Rather suddenly, however, the rushing begins and the time between realization and full on knowledge of the facts shortens considerably for everyone in the film.  Everyone just seems to “know” what things mean the moment they see them, or if they don’t, they understand it quickly and these leaps are more for the plot to continue to make haste than anything else.

It’s also a bit uncomfortable to watch the teens embrace their hormones with such vigor – one character goes from touching a girl’s shoulder to pretty much honking her breast in an instant.  I know none of them have experienced these sensations before, but have they never read a book or learned about etiquette?  It’s like the scientists taught the boys everything but how not to fondle girls and taught the women all about plant hydroponics yet skipped over the “no means no” conversation.  The male dominance of it all was a bit suffocating and if Burger had just given one female a bit of the nasty business to do instead of relegating it all to the guys it might have come off better.  As it is, the females become galactic wallpaper, aside from the standout Chanté Adams (Bad Hair) as a strict-rule follower that won’t be silenced by the bullies that have risen to power.  While we’re talking about the cast, Sheridan comes across like he always does…perfectly fine but terribly shallow.  If you ask me, Depp reminds me more of her model turned actress mother Vanessa Paradis than her much in the news Oscar-nominated father, and that’s not a bad thing in the least.  The standout in the cast is Whitehead who achieves a goal of creating an oily villain that you can easily root against – none of this ‘redeeming quality’ nonsense.

Despite some sag in the middle which shows some areas where the 108-minute film could be trimmed a bit, Burger gets to a fairly lively final act quite nicely.  While the effects aren’t going to win any awards, for a film of this size and with a cast of this caliber (no shade here, all are decent and acquit themselves nicely in roles that carry troublesome moments throughout) they mostly look good but I’d imagine they’d appear crisper in a theatrical setting.  For fans of sci-fi or space like myself, Voyagers is a worthy watch but know that it’s purely surface level material that is good for a distraction and little more. 

Movie Review ~ Making Monsters

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A successful social media prankster and his fiancée find their idyllic countryside weekend escape turn into the ultimate video prank where the stakes are life and death being broadcast onto the dark web.

Stars: Tim Loden, Alana Elmer, Jonathan Craig, Jarrett Siddall, Peter Higginson

Directors: Justin Harding & Rob Brunner

Rated: NR

Running Length: 85 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: First impressions are often telling and with a film like Making Monsters, you pretty much know the film you’re in for within the opening five minutes.  It’s in this short amount of time you get nudity, bloodshed, gore, annoying characters, questionable acting, and shaky production values.  It’s almost as if writer/director Justin Harding and his co-director Rob Brunner wanted to lay their cards out on the table at the beginning and say to anyone watching, “This is what we’re doing tonight.  You either like it and stick around or find something else to watch.”  I respect that approach and even if I hadn’t agreed to review this low-budget horror film that’s made its way around the specialty festival circuit over the past two years, I likely would have taken the duo up on their offer to see more.

Thanks to Facebook, I’ve somehow gotten myself subscribed to those heinous prank videos where some dopey guy (usually one you find out does extensive print modeling to really pay his bills) or group of guys play practical jokes on each other.  We’re not talking bucket on top of a door kind of jokes, we’re talking dumping pee on you and your significant other while you’re sleeping, filming it, and then running away laughing hysterically.  These videos are becoming increasingly popular, so the pranks are getting far more outlandish – most are elaborately set-up and often everyone is in on the joke but there are times when the reaction is very real. 

One such YouTube prank star is Christian Brand (Tim Loden), and he’s made a name for himself scaring the beejebus out of his ever-understanding girlfriend, now fiancée, Allison (Alana Elmer).  They’re getting ready to settle down and start a family and Allison has one request – no pranking her while they’re trying to get pregnant.  Trouble is, Brand is afraid that Allison is his good luck charm and if she’s not part of his scare show then his ratings will sink.  That’s a discussion for a different day because the couple has been invited by a friend to his new home in the country, a renovated church that will be the perfect getaway to start the baby making process.

Arriving at the nicely furnished home, their friend isn’t back from a business trip but his partner David (Jonathan Craig) is happy to play host until he’s back.  The couple is wary of the eccentric David at first but loosen up once they get to know him for the artist he is. A night of partying and chemically enhanced reverie commences, sending the trio into a tailspin of visions and creepy frights.  The next time they wake up, the number of guests has dwindled, it’s several days later, and a terrifying masked killer is hunting them down.  Is it all an elaborate prank or is there another sinister activity taking place that weekend?

While it’s no future undiscovered classic, there’s enough interesting things going on around Making Monsters (either front and center or in the periphery) that throughout the tight run time one hardly has the chance to get too involved/distracted by their phone.  The small cast and simple location allow the production to get creative with practical special effects, a number of which are quite effective.  Though it eventually bites off more than it can gnash its gnarly teeth on (oh the subplots!), when it stays focused on one line of thinking it works better than it should.  And yet it’s so cruelly violent and grotesque that at the same time you can’t help walking away with the ravages of depression taking tiny bites at the edges of your good nature.