“Chaos Walking” is an aptly named film as is portrayed in the initial scene where we meet young Todd (Tom Holland) walking along a dirt road. We are privy to his every fleeting and scattered thoughts, seeing colors wafting above his head that almost help us visualize his mind’s eye. Upon an encounter with a horseback riding preacher, we see that there is a class system in place and Todd is at the bottom. Beaten for his internal comments which Preacher (David Oyelowo) also hears, we struggle to discriminate spoken words from thoughts. We are immersed into the confusing and chaotic world in which these men live. And yes, there are only men in this dangerous world that in many ways mirrors Earth, but it isn’t. This new planet is inhabited by a group lead by a menacingly manipulative man, Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen). There’s more than meets the eye in their origins here but it isn’t until Todd discovers the sole survivor in a spacecraft crash landing–Viola (Daisy Ridley), a girl, that we begin to have our eyes opened as well.
Hunted like prey, Viola can hear The Noise, the men’s thoughts, and must trust Todd to help her escape to find a way to communicate with her ship to avoid an ambush. Together, they race against time, only to discover there’s a whole different world out there than they realized.
The story is initial incredibly confusing, but in a way that is mesmerizing. It’s a metacognitive challenge that pushes you to dampen what’s unnecessary and hone in on what is truly important. Submersed into this world, we eventually find our footing as explanations are given and Director Doug Liman lightens the burden of distraction. The use of special effects allowing us to see the thoughts and place color values on them makes it an even more lush story.
Holland once again proves that he is so much more than that geeky teen from Spider-Man however there is one moment that brings us back to his super hero talents. Additionally, this difficult role requires him to react to his thoughts as well as his speech which elicits a layered and rich performance. Ridley’s reserved performance fits her role well –we even have a call-back to a “Star Wars” scene–with an awkward chemistry with Holland that is engaging. Demian Bichir, Mikkelsen, Cynthia Erivo, Oyelowo, and Nick Jonas round out this star-studded cast to bring us into a believable dystopian world as it cautions us against many scenarios.
While this is a dark drama, and animal-lovers beware, there are elements of humor as well. Holland’s Todd meets a young woman for the first time…yes, his thoughts certainly wander and Viola can see and hear them! One of my favorite and under the radar scenes explains why the men sleep in different areas than the women…oh, how we women can relate to this!
“Chaos Walking” is a chilling tale reminding us of the importance of taking care of the land beneath our feet and to embrace differences rather than shun them. Transforming this story from the book, “The Knife of Never Letting Go,” to a visual story is an incredibly daunting task, but screenwriters Patrick Ness and Christopher Ford find an artistically creative way to do so. The special effects incorporated into the film punctuate these aspects elevating it to an even higher level. This is an ingeniously challenging film that initially throws you off-kilter, but quickly rights the ship you to give you depth and clarity.
3 1/2 stars