Back here on Earth the trend for YA movies has largely passed (sorry Chaos Walking) but this set-up is classic YA through and through, being science-fiction that barely makes sense intellectually but is a near-perfect set-up emotionally when it comes to exploring just how tough it is to be a teenager... in space.
With the only habitable planet a lifetime away, the plan to reach it is to send off a crew, let them have kids who will then become the crew, and then their kids' kids (also crew) will be the ones to reach the planet. To stop the original kids from freaking out over leaving Earth behind and being confined on a spaceship, they'll be given
virtual reality headsets no knowledge of what they're missing, being bred in test tubes from Earth's best and brightest then raised in shipping containers until they're sent into space.
To help them leave on their mission earlier (and because he's got nothing keeping him on Earth), their teacher Richard (Colin Farrell) goes with them to supervise, because obviously having a single solitary authority figure on a ship that'll soon be full of teenagers couldn't possibly cause problems.
But just in case, they're all constantly dosed with "blue", a drug that keeps them sexless robots, which works just fine until somebody realises they're on board a closed system and blue is toxic to plants. Earth spent a decade putting this mission together and nobody picked up on that?
When best buds Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Foinn Whitehead) finally figure it out (why do they only notice it a decade into their mission?), they're not impressed. "Decrease pleasure?" says Zac, "I want to increase pleasure!". Coming from the chief engineer on a spaceship billions of miles from anywhere, this is A Bad Sign. Before you know it, he's tipping his Blue down the sink, getting high on life, checking out Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) and making everyone else think they probably should have put a few online courses on consent on the ship's mainframe.
Pretty much everything you can think of that could go wrong promptly does, though some of the mishaps they encounter may be more to do with their hyperactive imaginations than what they're really facing. And speaking of hyperactive imaginations, while the trailers for this promised a whole lot of Freaky Space Orgies (c'mon, what else are the kids going to get up to? They don't even have TV), this limits itself to a bunch of lustful stares, some intense hand holding and one (1) single sex session on a piece of gym equipment.
(then again, these are kids whose idea of a good time is sniffing sage and running down the corridors: figuring out how to bone on a weight bench is the kind of initiative mission control would be proud of)
This occasionally teeters on the verge of delivering something really nuts (largely in the form of brief bizarro montages as the kids finally access their full emotions), but it's basically Lord of the Flies in Space mixed in with Rise of A Space Trump. If nothing else, the last four years of US politics have given us all a fairly extensive course in how would-be demagogues use enemies both real and imagined to unite their base, and that's one more thing this spaceship has taken on board.
Still, despite being set entirely inside a bunch of bland corridors and visually unimpressive rooms, this manages to be somewhat engaging on a fairly basic level. That's largely thanks to committed performances from a cast that deserve better and a script that never realises its potential lunacy but still manages to set up then pay off a string of moderately interesting developments.
Teens have sex, hot dudes go shirtless, someone goes out the airlock; mission accomplished.
- Anthony Morris