Chaos Walking: Plot Lost in the Noise

Madeleine’s Score: Made myself finish it 
(2/5 cool points)

Welcome to New World, a recently colonized planet where all male humans and animals have “noise” that everyone can hear and see. “Noise” is comprised of a man’s innermost thoughts, which appear in both audio and visual forms around his head at all times. There’s no privacy for most in New World, and the removal of that liberty takes its toll. 

Todd is a young resident of Prentisstown, a colony where all of the women supposedly died in a war with the residents of the planet, a species referred to as “Spackle.” When Viola, a woman sent on a scouting mission to New World, crash-lands on the planet near Prentisstown, she immediately becomes the target of Mayor Prentiss (yep, must have named the town after himself). This mayor has the unique talent of concealing his noise, as well as about every inferiority complex a man can have. He and his posse and their constant chorus of noise repeating “I am the circle and the circle is me” aim to capture this woman, who is clearly a serious threat to their society (sigh). 

Chaos Walking has one thing going for it—the talented and lovable Tom Holland, whose character Todd is the sole source of heart in this otherwise bitterness-filled mess of a story. Todd struggles as we all do with sin, and that struggle is on full display. But he endeavors to make noble choices, and that causes him to stand out against the darkness of his hometown. 

Other than that…I have few compliments to give. Underdeveloped and flat characters (Viola, among others), an intriguing alien race that’s no more than a footnote with one half-baked appearance in the movie, and a plot that was cobbled together with equal parts predictability and randomness. Predictably AND randomness? Indeed, this movie has it all. Not to mention general plot holes. 

One embodiment of these plot issues is how, before tragedy struck, Todd’s mother wrote in her journal, “I can see what’s coming clear as day,” and yet, she did nothing to prevent it…hmm. Another major annoyance was the character of Aaron the preacher, who fulfills every cliché of the “evil religious a-hole” and kills an innocent creature purely for shock value. 

It’s worth noting that Chaos Walking is based on the first book of the YA trilogy of the same name. In fact, the author of the trilogy, Patrick Ness, helped write the screenplay. Even with the author’s involvement, I suspect many of the issues with this film can be attributed to trying to fit too much content into too short a time span. The neglect of the aliens, the underdeveloped characters, even the lack of impact of Todd’s doggy sidekick (a trope I generally adore) are likely nonexistent issues in the book, and seeing everything play out over three books would certainly help overall. Might have to read the series to see if I’m correct. 

This seems like a classic case of “the book is better than the movie” because, as we all know, these storytelling formats are not one-to-one, and creators need to make considerations for how to adapt one to the other rather than cherry-picking parts and acting as though their sum makes a compelling narrative.

Check out the trailer below, just don’t let it get your hopes up like I did. But hey, gotta love Mr. Holland.