Chaos Walking (2021)

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Chaos Walking (2021)

Two unlikely companions embark on a perilous adventure through the badlands of an unexplored planet as they try to escape a dangerous and disorienting reality where all thoughts are seen and heard by everyone.

Chaos Walking (2021) Trailer


Chaos Walking (2021) Reviews

Based on the first in a trilogy of young adult novels by Patrick Ness, “Chaos Walking” is a science fiction western set on a colonized planet where men’s thoughts can be heard by others. That’s a fertile starting place for a genre film, and the premise is intriguingly visualized by Ness, co-screenwriter Christopher Ford, and director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Go”), with characters’ thoughts and feelings swirling about their heads in a purple-blue, wreath-like haze that evokes scientists’ models of how airborne infections are spread.Every character with this affliction suggests a mood ring when seen from a distance. There are shots of angry mobs where you can see their bad thoughts pulsing. We also hear individual thoughts in snippets of voice-over narration, popping in and out of conversations in the manner of an anxious comic book character’s thought balloons (“Keep walking, keep walking,” “Don’t let them know she’s in the barn!”). This is all referred to as “Noise.”
We’re getting ahead of ourselves—this review hasn’t even described what the movie is about yet—but it’s easy to do, because “Chaos Walking” is more satisfying to think about than it is to watch. A team-up of two Disney franchise stars, Tom Holland (aka the MCU Spider-Man) and Daisy Ridley (Rey from the “Star Wars” sequels), “Chaos Walking” takes place some time in the future.Earthlings have left their degraded homeworld to seed new systems. Holland’s character, Todd Hewitt, is the naive teenage son of a farmer (Demian Bechir) in a small village, Prentisstown, on a backwater planet. The colonists here appear to have been forgotten about.There are no women in sight. We’re told that the indigenous population killed all the women (including Todd’s mother) during a war between themselves and the colonizers. The mayor of the village, Mads Mikkelsen’s David Prentiss, has built a religion of enforced, ritualized hyper-masculinity, with men affirming that they derive strength from The Noise around their heads, chastising themselves and each other for showing weakness and expressing feelings, and persecuting any man who does on grounds that he’s “acting like a woman.”Ridley’s character, Viola Eade, falls into this macho cesspool when the spacecraft bearing her toward the planet malfunctions, depositing her in the woods outside of town, the sole survivor of a brutal crash. Of course Todd finds her and develops a crush on her, and it’s only a matter of time before he has to protect her against an all-male mob, most of which has never seen a real, live “girl” before.

Viola doesn’t need protection, really; she’s mechanically capable, and can fight. But she does need a guide through the wilderness to take her to find a transmitter left over from a previous mission, which will enable her to call for help.

Pretty soon we’re in the territory of a benevolent sci-fi drama like “E.T.” or “Starman” revolving around a psychically bonded duo, one of which is more highly evolved than the other. (Of course it’s debatable which of these two is better equipped for survival. Todd is a more proficient fighter and killer, but The Noise in his head keeps giving away his position, as well as the thoughts he wants to keep private.)The sci-fi elements coexist with a wilderness survival picture aspect, as well as fragments of an old-fashioned Hollywood Western about the politics of a civilization in a “frontier” built on colonized land. There’s a love story, too, sort of—although Todd’s basically sexless, pre-adolescent way of relating to women and Ridley’s super-capable, big-sisterly vibes (also her energy in the “Star Wars” movies) ensure that any chemistry between them is suppressed or re-directed.It’s frustrating that “Chaos Walking” barely delves into the backstory of the indigenous race of humanoids that were beaten into submission by the humans and that supposedly burdened the surviving humans with audible/visible thoughts, as if cursing them for the sins they committed. (We meet one of the natives in a brief, violent action scene; he (it?) is missing an arm from the elbow down.) But then, there’s a lot of detail that gets skimmed over in the urgent push to get Viola and Todd to the transmitter.Liman’s deftness at staging large-scale yet intimate action scenes occupies spaces that might’ve been better served with more world-building and philosophical-theological debate, as well as more insight into the history of this colonized world, which resonates with stories of genocide against indigenous people inside the United States and in countries overseas (Australia and Japan make great  “Westerns,” too) and alludes to mythology and scripture (Todd is often pictured eating apples, yet it’s the men in the film who have been denied knowledge).

There’s also a not-too-subtle commentary on the differences between masculinity and femininity as it’s typically constructed by societies. Notice that the men are very easy to read, for better and worse, while the women keep secrets and possess ancient knowledge than can heal the men.

Not that we get much more than a few slivers of any of this. The film is less than two hours long, and it tries to cover as much ground as a season of a TV show while pacing itself like a trailer. When it pauses to catch its breath—as in a long scene of one character reading aloud to another—you get a glimpse of the simpler, more focused, more rewarding film that might’ve been.

To be fair, “Chaos Walking” occupies a tricky marketplace position and appears to have chosen to practice self-censorship in order to exist. It’s a $100 million-budgeted sci-fi picture: not small, by any means, but also not big by the standards of Star Wars or Marvel, which routinely drops anywhere from $250 to $400 million on a single feature.Maybe the mandate was to lure new audiences with action and (potential) romance and the (relative) star power of Ridley and Holland, then go deeper into the weeds in future installments. But what ended up onscreen feels not-quite-there a lot of the time, which is not a smart way to try to capture people’s imaginations and make them demand sequels. What’s the point of playing it safe if it produces the same result as if you’d gone for broke?This is particularly frustrating given that Ridley and Holland are delivering superb, unaffected performances as characters that we really do care about, in an environment that’s been built out just enough to make you fixate on the tantalizing unanswered questions that the film is never going to do more than glance at. The undernourished aspects include the toxic masculinity cult that Prentiss has built up and encouraged.His chief acolyte, played by David Oyelowo, is a firebrand who has internalized everything the high priest taught him, becoming a radical revolutionary who already thinks he’d make a better leader of men. Mikkelsen’s approach to his underwritten character is mesmerizing, as is often the case with this performer.

Spending most of the film’s running time on horseback, wearing a lush, long fur coat and floppy-brimmed hat which channels all the decadent fops that Marlon Brando played after middle age, and delivering his lines in a combination purring Euro-cadence and frontier drawl, he’s always perched on the knife’s-edge of hamminess. But it’s impossible to deny that somehow, mysteriously, like Lebowski’s rug, he ties the whole thing together.

Kudos to Liman and his collaborators (including a sound team consisting of more than three dozen people) for showing us something we haven’t exactly seen before, outside of a few stray scenes or sequences in telepathic horror or superhero pictures where the main characters have to learn how to selectively screen out the data that their highly advanced senses/brains are vacuuming up. “Chaos Walking” immerses the viewer in a different kind of cinematic headspace, creating a film that gradually teaches the viewer how to watch it.

It takes a while to get used to the way these characters interact—particularly the way they shield their thoughts from others by repeating neutral words and phrases like mantras—and how their hidden or revealed thoughts are visualized in the halos around their heads.

But once you’re immersed, it’s a powerful experience that lingers in the mind long after the film’s many disappointments have started to fade. How can a person last even an hour in a world like this one without going mad, or making another person want to kill them? To quote Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” “…If my thought-dreams could be seen/You’d put my head in a guillotine.”

  • Matt Zoller Seitz –  Roger Ebert
  • Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of, TV critic for New York Magazine and, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.


Chaos Walking (2021) Credits

Chaos Walking movie poster

Chaos Walking (2021)

Rated PG-13 for violence and language.

109 minutes


Daisy Ridley as Viola Eade

Tom Holland as Todd Hewitt

Mads Mikkelsen as Mayor David Prentiss

Demián Bichir as Ben Moore

Cynthia Erivo as Hildy

Nick Jonas as Davy Prentiss Jr.

David Oyelowo as Aaron

Kurt Sutter as Cillian Boyd

Mylène Dinh-Robic as Julie


  • Doug Liman

Writer (based upon the book “The Knife of Never Letting Go” by)

  • Patrick Ness


  • Patrick Ness
  • Christopher Ford


  • Ben Seresin


  • Andrew Mondshein


  • Marco Beltrami
  • Brandon Roberts


Chaos Walking (2021) Plot

In 2257 AD, the colonists of the planet New World, all men, have been afflicted with a condition called the Noise, which causes everyone to see and hear each other’s thoughts. The colonists were involved in a bitter war with the native humanoid species referred to as The Spackle, a war that ostensibly killed all female colonists, while half the men survived.

Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown with his adoptive fathers, Ben Moore and Cillian Boyd. Other residents include the preacher Aaron, the town’s mayor David Prentiss, and his son Davy. Prentiss has learned to control his Noise, making his thoughts difficult to see and hear. A spaceship that lost contact with the First Colony approaches New World and a scout ship is sent to investigate the planet, but it crashes. One day, Todd discovers someone stealing something and chases the thief, only to come upon the crash site.

Todd returns to the town and tries to keep quiet, but the other men hear and see his thoughts about the crashed ship. They head to investigate the crash scene and scavenge some parts of the ship, but find no survivors. While Todd is alone, he meets Viola, the ship’s only survivor.

He is shocked to see a girl, as he has never seen one before. The men from Prentisstown capture Viola and she is brought to the mayor’s home, where she is questioned about where she came from. Prentiss explains to her what the Noise is and what has happened on their planet. While he leaves to go speak to the men, Davy is charged with keeping an eye on her. Davy unwittingly toys with one of Viola’s gadgets, which causes it to shoot large holes in the walls, helping Viola escape.

During her escape, Viola overhears Prentiss talking about preventing her from contacting the colony’s mothership, intercepting their landing, killing them while they are still under cryosleep, and scavenging the ship. Viola hides in Todd’s family’s barn, where Todd eventually finds her. Todd tries to hide Viola, when one of Prentiss’ men arrives looking for her. Ben tells Todd about another settlement called Farbranch and says Viola will be safe there.

Viola escapes on a motorcycle while Todd chases after her on one of the horses. Prentiss and the men arrive at the farm, demanding Viola back as they believe she is a spy. Davy kills Cillian, and Ben is forced to join them. Meanwhile, Todd catches up to Viola and the two begin a journey to Farbranch, accompanied by Todd’s dog, Manchee.

During the journey, Viola reveals to Todd that she is from a large Colony Ship carrying over four thousand passengers and that her parents died during the 64 year-long journey from Earth to New World. Todd reveals he never knew his real parents. When they encounter a Spackle, Todd attempts to kill it in self-defense, but Viola stops him because it does not appear to be dangerous. They arrive at Farbranch, a town inhabited by men, women and children, some of whom are displeased with Todd’s presence, because he is from Prentisstown.

Todd discovers his mother’s diary, but Viola reads it to him because he cannot. The diary reveals that the women were not killed by the native aliens, but rather by Prentiss and the men of Prentisstown. The men could not stand not knowing the thoughts of the women, when they could hear theirs, which drove them crazy. Angered, Todd realizes that everything he had been told was a lie. Prentiss and his men arrive, again demanding Viola.

Ben tries to get Todd to surrender Viola, but Todd is upset at him for lying. Ben uses an image of Viola to distract Prentiss and his men, while Todd and Viola escape. Aaron chases them. They come upon a boat, and, as they escape, Aaron kills Manchee, further enraging Todd.

The next day, Viola and Todd arrive at the ruins of the first colony ship. They enter it and try to send a signal to the colony ship, but the antenna is damaged, so Todd attempts to repair it. When Prentiss and his men arrive, Todd surrenders himself, as Prentiss is holding Ben hostage. Aaron goes inside to kill Viola, but she immolates him with one of her gadgets. Todd appears, but Prentiss shoots Ben.

Todd goes to him and, unknown to Prentiss, Ben gives him a knife. Todd engages Prentiss, but he uses illusions of himself to distract Todd and shoots him. As he is about to kill Todd, Todd uses illusions of his mother and other women, calling Prentiss a coward. Viola pushes Prentiss off the cliff ledge to his death. The colony ship appears in the sky, causing Davy and the remaining Prentisstown men to flee.

Todd wakes up in the colony ship’s medical room, almost fully healed. Viola takes him to meet other colonists.


Chaos Walking (2021) Box office

The film grossed $13.3 million in the United States and Canada, and $13.8 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $27.1 million, against a production budget of $100 million.

In North America, it was released alongside Raya and the Last Dragon and Boogie, and made $1.3 million from 1,980 theaters on its first day of release. It went on to debut to $3.7 million, finishing third at the box office. Deadline Hollywood wrote that the film was “poised to lose money” for Lionsgate, and Lionsgate “has already written off the pic’s loss.”

The film made $2.3 million (–40%) in its second weekend, remaining in third. After its third weekend, where it grossed $1.2 million, Variety said the film would “result in a massive write-down for the studio.” 

In South Korea, the film grossed $503,140 in its opening weekend, finishing fifth at the box office.


Chaos Walking (2021) Critical Response

Reviews for the film criticized it for “poor execution and conventional, underdeveloped characters.” Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 21% of 145 critics have given the film a positive review, with an average rating of 4.5/10. The site’s critics consensus reads: “Chaos Walking sets out on a potentially interesting path, but this dystopian adventure badly bungles its premise and limps toward the finish.”

According to Metacritic, which calculated a weighted average score of 38 out of 100 based on 32 critics, the film received “generally unfavorable reviews”. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “B” on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported 70% of audience members gave it a positive score, with 43% saying they would definitely recommend it.

Writing for IndieWire, David Ehrlich gave the film a grade of C− and said, “Despite its strange conceit and a few buried hints as to what a more courageous film might have done with it, the movie version of the first Chaos Walking book (published as ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’) is such a dull and ordinary thing that it can’t help but get engulfed by the shadow of its own missed potential.”

Peter Debruge of Variety said the film “quickly wears out its welcome” and wrote: “When it comes to confrontations, the movie wimps out, putting more effort into New World-building than in the largely generic characters who populate it.” DiscussingFilm blamed the film’s pacing for slowing down what is an otherwise enjoyable dystopian tale with “charismatic and charming” performances from Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley.


Chaos Walking (2021) Accolades


Chaos Walking (2021) Movie Info

In the not-too-distant future, Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) discovers Viola (Daisy Ridley), a mysterious girl who crash lands on his planet, where all the women have disappeared and the men are afflicted by “the Noise” — a force that puts all their thoughts on display. In this dangerous landscape, Viola’s life is threatened — and as Todd vows to protect her, he will have to discover his own inner power and unlock the planet’s dark secrets.

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