To find the “correct” tone of your film; to play things straight or to lean more into the more silly possibilities? In the sci-fi film Chaos Walking, events are set on a planet where human settlers can all hear — and sometimes see — each other’s thoughts. It’s the kind of premise that’s quite alluring on paper. But it’s also one that. once translated to the screen, became a domino of problems. Shot in 2017 and directed by Doug Liman, this is a film that has been embroiled in reshoot-and-postproduction limbo for some time, with the finally arriving end result being about as messy as its characters’ scattered thoughts. Set in the rough frontier town of Prentisstown, on the planet “New World,” we find our teen hero Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland), who works overtime to hide his thoughts from others by obsessively repeating phrases to himself. It’s for this which he is mercilessly bullied by the townspeople, especially Davy (Nick Jonas), the irritable son of the sinister, scheming mayor David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen).
Ominously, there are no women in Prentisstown, but one day, out of the sky crash-lands Viola (Daisy Ridley), part of an approaching wave of new human settlers. In due time, Todd and his adoptive fathers, Ben and Cillian (Demián Bichir and Kurt Sutter), protect Viola from the rest of the men, and eventually Todd agrees to take her to a distant settlement for safety. And it’s during their journey, where the whole hearing-people’s-thoughts thing pays some dividends. Viola knows what Todd is thinking, which means that his overactive teenage desires regularly embarrass him in front of this beautiful space refugee. But she’s reliant on this fundamentally decent kid for her survival, so the two come to depend on each other. There’s a touching idea in Todd character, as he recounts his name as a way of keeping his runaway thoughts in check, and such conceit and character relationship undoubtedly has potential, yet it’s also apart of what makes Chaos Walking frustrating: It does so little with its premise.
There does seem to be plenty of humorous potential, too. Overheard thoughts can often alienate viewers in mainstream movies. Which is probably why it’s most commonly seen in comedies: Hearing someone’s thoughts tends to make us uneasy, and it can be hard to retrofit such an idea into sci-fi adventure. Which is why Liman isn’t exactly a bad choice for this material. He is, after all, the filmmaker behind Edge of Tomorrow, a sci-fi flick that took another offbeat idea — Independence Day meets Groundhog Day, with Tom Cruise dying over and over again and coming back to the same day — and turning it into one of the most inspired action movies of recent years. Edge of Tomorrow wasn’t a comedy, but was still pretty funny at times. Chaos Walking, on the other hand, struggles to retain its comic spirit, but one does get the sense that maybe, in some distant rough cut or earlier draft of the script, it was more funny or just a more inspired picture. Instead, what’s delivered is a movie that seems determined to run away from itself. For such an intriguingly strange premise, Chaos Walking disappointedly plays its conceit plainly ordinary; harmless but stagnant.
Chaos Walking is available on VOD
Rose Plays Julie
The fine line between the deeply serious and some form of emotional affect is an interesting one to draw. The new film from directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, Rose Plays Julie, is a prime example of a potent balance; capturing the ability to shape it story with an urgent intensity. The film follows a veterinary student named Rose (Ann Skelly) who, having been adopted at birth, attempts to track down her biological parents. From the start, her cadence is vague and dissociative; her motives unclear, her sign of internal life low. She soon finds her birth mother, Ellen (Orla Brady), as she silently follows her to work, then to her home. It’s as things continue, where our knowledge of Rose begins to piece together, which includes the traumatic history of her conception. We witness her question her previously unfettered sense of understanding of the world she was brought into. The wake of this knowledge sets forth imbalances and counteractions within both her sense of self and actions — she can no longer live as she has been living, she can no longer be as she has been. We see this most vigorously as the film introduces us to the figure of her biological father, Peter (Aidan Gillen), a celebrity archeologist whose charisma is tautly bound atop a violent streak.
Rose Plays Julie‘s second act slowly shifts its focus onto Peter and the monstrosities that come from him. Over time questions of self-awareness are raised; with answers of atonement eschewed for something more complex. It’s a film that asks you to sit within its bruising contemplations. It’s unflinching in the way it crafts suspense, whether psychological or literal in its depiction; it models scenarios that can be hard to watch, never mind fathom, with a distance that is somewhat cold and always intentional (even if some plot turns turn to be a tad goofy). It’s a film that does not offer its narrative as a guiding prompt for the everyday but rather uses its exercise in genre as a means to explore what is too often the unnameable. It allows for the fantastic as a means and space of catharsis. Though the narrative direction takes a deflating turn, the lethal grip of Rose Plays Julie is impressively tight and, in some regards, rewarding.
Rose Plays Julie is available on VOD