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Chaos Walking

The 21st Century has seen an explosion in young adult sci-fi novels becoming films. ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Divergent’, ‘The Maze Runner’ and others have evolved into franchises. A few have fared better than others, with the more successful capturing imaginations. Based on Patrick Ness’ book trilogy, ‘Chaos Walking’ is another in the growing genre. It helps having director Doug Liman on board as his skills in developing science fiction epics on the big screen enables ‘Chaos Walking’ to be more engaging than most.

Todd (Tom Holland) lives on a distant planet called New World. It’s a strange place where every woman has disappeared and the men are afflicted with ‘the Noise’ – a force putting all their thoughts on display. He meets mysterious girl Viola (Daisy Ridley), who has crash landed on his planet, and protects her from his world’s dangerous elements. Learning to channel his inner powers in order to keep her from harm, Todd and Viola go on the run as they discover the planet’s deadly secrets.

‘Chaos Walking’ follows a standard formula. The heroes are virtuous, the villains are pure evil and the plot moves at a familiar pattern. Despite Liman’s directorial flair and the strong performances, ‘Chaos Walking’ feels very generic. The twists and turns have been seen before with little feeling fresh. Particular scenes don’t make sense with this oft-delayed and much re-written film suffering from interference from too many behind the scenes.

With an intriguing concept, Todd’s determination to prevent his thoughts being heard leads to several tense scenes. Viola’s reaction to her peculiar new surroundings are believable despite the sci-fi trappings. These ideas are more from the source novel than the film’s script, which apparently waters down much of the book’s inventiveness. What’s offered is ok but could have been better handled. ‘Chaos Walking’ perhaps would have worked better as an ongoing TV series given how much is crammed within its brisk runtime.

A movie is only as good as its bravery in telling its story in a unique way. ‘Chaos Walking’ barely has any of that. It’s weaker than it should be with the central ideas not going far enough. This won’t stop further films in the genre from being made with the lure of franchise dollars always difficult to resist.

Rating out of 10: 5

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The Vast of Night

A science fiction movie can be huge in scale without a massive budget. A film made on a shoestring can be just as effective. The genre works due to the atmosphere and tension generated. Directed by first time film-maker Andrew Patterson, ‘The Vast of Night’ has these elements and a miniscule budget. Patterson’s skills in telling the story as well as masking technical limitations makes him one to watch in whatever cinematic field he chooses.

In 1950’s New Mexico, radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) is helping with a high school basketball game. Catching up with telephone switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick), he thinks it will be another breezy night. When Fay hears a mysterious audio signal over the switchboard phone lines, she asks Everett for help. What follows is a night filled with shocking surprises with conspiracies, disappearances and high drama changing them forever.

‘The Vast of Night’ takes its cue from 1950’s American sci-fi TV shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’. Visually and story-wise it’s very similar with Patterson evoking a constant suspenseful moody feel. The plot is driven by two determined characters wanting to uncover the mystery at any cost. In this way, ‘The Vast of Night’ also has a vibe of an ‘X-Files’ episode. It’s just as compelling with the small ensemble cast drawing out their character’s emotions without resorting to melodramatics.

Patterson remembers not to have ‘The Vast of Night’ wear its cheapness like a badge of honour. He makes the effort in utilising what he has to work with in the form of striking visuals and tight pacing. It isn’t always perfect but ‘The Vast of Night’ tells a simple tale as well as possible. As an ode to the classic TV series it is inspired by, works a treat. The CGI bells and whistles aren’t missed as the performances and look provide their own brand of spectacle.

It’s always exciting seeing a new film-maker work magic. Whilst ‘The Vast of Night’ is small in money, it is big with well expressed ideas. It will be interesting seeing what Patterson does next with his debut movie showing a new film creator with lots of promise.

Rating out of 10: 7

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