Voyagers (2021)

I remember discussing Aniara and High Life as sister films when they first went into wide release in 2019: two ice-cold space travel narratives about the doomed prospects of humanity surviving the next few decades of Climate Change decimation.  And now we have met those sisters’ goofy little brother in Voyagers: a trashy YA space thriller on a similar subject but without their sense of purpose or coherence.  It’s difficult to say whether Voyagers is “about” the same existential concerns as Aniara or High Life.  If Voyagers is about anything at all, it might just be a grim warning that teenage hormones are dangerous for space travel.  Mostly, it’s just a mockbuster echo of themes that have been tackled in much more thoughtful, substantial works before it (including Equals and The Lord of the Flies, among the two already mentioned), ensuring that it will only be exciting to a teen audience young enough to not have seen this exact ground tread before.  Thankfully, genre filmmaking doesn’t have to be entirely novel to be worthwhile; it just has to be entertaining.

Like in Aniara and High Life, Voyagers follows a doomed, decades-spanning mission to preserve the human race in the farthest reaches of outer space, leaving a decaying Earth behind.  It skips over the more complexly philosophical and moralistic conflicts of its smarter sister films so it can quickly get to the good stuff: shirtless teen boys wrestling on a spaceship.  Where Aniara and High Life will ask big-concept sci-fi questions about the ethics of forcibly bringing children into a world that is already ending before our eyes, Voyagers instead rapidly ages those children until they’re hormonal powder-kegs, then smashes them together like Barbie dolls in PG-13 friendly make-out sessions.  It occasionally pretends to be about the chaotic selfishness of human nature or the dangerous appeal of populist right-wing politics, but it’s heart not really in it.  This is not a cinema of ideals or ideas.  This is a thirst-trap movie for teens where everyone involved is their age, horny, inexplicably heterosexual, and the boys among them love to wrestle.  The only reason it’s even set in outer space is that sometimes a hatch will open so the boys’ shirts will fly right off into the vacuum, revealing their abs for the swooning audience at home.

Voyagers is a bad movie.  It’s also a strangely compelling one.  There are some truly chaotic editing choices in its early stretch when the starbound teens first discover the joys of living horny & unmedicated, their minds’ eye opened to universe in rapid-fire montage of Ed Woodian stock footage.  Not since Lucy has a film so confidently dived headfirst into stock-footage psychedelia on this level of sublime inanity.  It’s too bad that editing-room giddiness cools down once the horny teen violence heats up; if they had worked in tandem this could’ve been worthy of Midnight Movie programming for decades into the future.  Instead, it’s the kind of so-bad-it’s-decently-entertaining novelty that you shamefully watch on the couch alone, shuttering the windows to hide your shame from the neighbors.  I wouldn’t recommend the film so much as I would bashfully admit that I had a fun time watching it – my appreciation crumbling under any scrutiny or pushback against its many, many faults.  If you want a Good Movie, watch High Life or Aniara.  That’s not what Voyagers is for.

-Brandon Ledet

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