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Film Review: Chaos Walking (2021)

Director: Doug Liman
Writers: Patrick Ness, Christopher Ford
Starring: Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen
Based on: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Synopsis: A dystopian world where there are no women and all living creatures can hear each other’s thoughts in a stream of images, words, and sounds called Noise.

I might be one of the few people that was not a big fan of the original book The Knife of Never Letting Go. Whilst I appreciated the ambition of the story and the ideas that Ness came up with, I felt the execution was messy and that I could not connect with any of the characters at the time. When I heard the book would be turned into a film along the likes of other dystopian young adult tales such as The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games, I was already worried about the execution and how they would be able to take a story this complex and keep it under two hours.

The first major issue with this film is the time, which clocks in at under two hours. If this book was to work in an adaptation, it would need much more time to flesh out the world and the leading characters. This is a really complex world and the audience is just immediately thrown into it, with no establishment of rules, hierarchy or journey for us to cling onto. I went into the film already knowing the way that the world was meant to operate, but this world is so easy to get lost in and more ground needed to be covered in a solid introduction, giving us more time for the film or making better use of the short runtime.

The visual effects work fluctuates throughout the film as some interesting design choices were made to visually represent the Noise. Despite how busy the visuals were, I think the visual effects team did as well as they could to bring the vision to life in a way that is clear for the audience to understand. I do question some of the other visual effects though, particularly in the action sequences where it is clear that it was computer generated and pulls you out of the scene quickly.

Individually, each performance is strong and each actor does as much as they can to add layers to their characters. Tom Holland always gives his full attention to every role that he takes on, and I am glad to be seeing more of Daisy Ridley and taking risks with the projects that she chooses. However, the issue lies with the performances connecting, as I could not buy any of the relationships in this film. Everyone here felt like they were acting individually and the script does not help give the material for the actors to bounce off each other naturally, making it hard to care about any of the relationships.

Due to the short runtime for a project this big, it feels like the character development is cut extremely short. Instead of giving us solid introductions to characters, developing real motivations for their journey and getting to see each character develop through their relationships and experience, it felt instead like they were just shells for this world to exist. Unlike other dystopian tales such as The Hunger Games where I genuinely care about our leading character and the journey that she has to go on to protect those closes to her, I had none of that emotional investment in Chaos Walking.

Some people will argue that this is a film that is made for the young adult audience and that tonally it works for the genre it is placed in. However, as a fan of dystopian tales and someone who still reads young adult fiction, I would still say that this is a weak film for the genre in terms of structure and filmmaking. Recently, we have been seeing a trend of these young adult books being adapted for a full TV series, such as the upcoming Shadow & Bone and Percy Jackson series. If this book was to ever work fully as an adaptation, given the complexity of the book I believe it would have had to have been a full series to not only expand on the world but to let the characters have actual development.

When I enter a film for the first time, no matter how bad the marketing looks or the word of mouth I hear, I always want it to be good. With this film, I knew it had a mountain to climb because of the original book and the issues that went on during production and post-production. Sadly, there was little payoff as I actually wanted more time with this story and breathing room for these characters. The team does the best they can do to bring this world to life, but there is little substance within it to keep the audience engaged or to care by the end of the film. Considering this is only available to buy or rent right now, I would recommend skipping this one.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Chaos Walking is available to buy or rent now.

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