Chaos Walking (aka The Knife of Never Letting Go) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Based on a YA novel, Chaos Walking at least has an interesting edge to explore in the exhausted subgenre of Young Adult Dystopian tales. The colonization of a new world for mankind occurs in waves, where the first wave has settled as colonists with a pioneering edge. The oddest thing about the planet is that all the men have their thoughts materialize as sight and sound with some mysterious force called The Noise. That’s a pretty interesting idea but such a film only manages to scrape the bare minimum of this rather interesting scenario.
On the planet, we follow Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland), a young man who has only ever known life on this new world. Having grown up with the Noise, he struggles to maintain it. Others have been able to master it to a certain degree, where the mayor (Mads Mikkelsen) has managed to focus his energies on hiding his thoughts and depicting illusions. Todd finds himself easily distracted as an unsure young adult, desperate to maintain his noise by repeating the words “I am Todd Hewitt.” His farm life does little to shake this uneasiness.
The planet has just received an arrival as a space shuttle crash lands in Todd’s territory. The only survivor is Viola (Daisy Ridley), a young woman who finds herself perplexed and frightened by an all-male community with transparent thoughts. Given that Todd has never seen a woman before, he’s overwhelmed with emotions and unsure how to respond. He’s also not sure who to trust when the mayor wants to keep her contained for undisclosed reasons.
Todd’s adventure to keep Viola safe finds him struggling to comprehend the world he occupies and the identity of being a man. It’s an intriguing aspect that is worth exploring, tapping more into the fears that young men have about growing up and trying to prove themself. Todd’s Noise constantly finds him seeking ways to show off to others that he is more of a man than a boy. It’s just a shame that there isn’t a whole lot more to his character besides seeking truth and worth through pathos most routine. The same goes for Viola who finds herself as more of a basic audience surrogate than someone with an arc.
The setting is at least quite pleasing. The new world is treated with a pioneering edge, where villages center around old-fashioned agricultural methods, horseback travel, and hunting with rifles and knives. There’s a great western setting to this swampy planet of fields, rivers, and forests. It’s a location that also looks good when posed next to down starships that enter and crash on the planet.
The concept of the Noise, however, feels as though there’s whole lore more worth exploring. Consider the Priest of Todd’s collective, a man who is conflicted by his own sins that his Noise seems to only speak of religious anger. A lot of the thoughts of the men communicated by the Noise are also rather base. They ask basic questions, make predictable reactions, and dream about baseball. It just seems like this would be an ample opportunity to display how men have thoughts that don’t about as easily come about in verbal conversations.
Chaos Walking really only feels like it’s a fraction of the YA dystopian tale it could have been. The concept is solid but the story spends so much time meandering around lesser moments that hardly make the setting any more interesting than on its basic levels. If only such a picture could see through its own Noise to present more clearer than a standard adventure of Holland and Ridley.