“The Noise is a man’s thoughts unfiltered, and without a filter a man is just chaos walking.”

So begins this sci-fi flick starring Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley. In Chaos Walking, Todd (Holland) calls Prentisstown home, a human colony on an alien planet. He’s never seen a girl before – all the women in his town were wiped out by the planet’s natives, the Spackle. So when Viola (Ridley) crash lands near Todd’s farm, he’s surprised to realize she doesn’t have any Noise. Together they embark on a journey across the colonies, as Todd learns the dark secrets of his home while Viola struggles to get back to hers.

Chaos Walking Review

The Noise Is Great

The best part of Chaos Walking is how completely it dedicates itself to exploring the consequences of Noise, and how it impacts daily life. If you’ve ever considered what it would be like for everyone to be able to hear your thoughts… well, everything you’ve worried about pops up for these characters to deal with.

It’s nearly impossible to lie to anyone, because they can hear you thinking the truth. (We all know how hard it is when you’re NOT trying to think of something. You’re always going to end up thinking about it.) Strong emotions rile up your thoughts until you’re shouting without even opening your mouth. Those embarrassing daydreams? Not just in your head anymore. And if you control your thoughts well enough, you can actually project your Noise into auditory and visual mirages, temporarily indistinguishable from reality. Pretty scary, right?

But Chaos Walking actually presents a pretty nuanced look at the “what if everyone heard my thoughts” scenario. The flip side to not being able to tell a convincing lie is no one can lie to you either. There’s no confusion about someone saying one thing and meaning another, because you can hear exactly what they mean in their head. And being able to literally visualize your thoughts has some benefits, too. You don’t need to carry a physical map to navigate, for example, because thinking about one conjures the image up in front of you.

Tom Holland in Chaos Walking

A lot of sci-fi concepts only scratch the surface of their premise, but you can really see the thought (pun intended) Chaos Walking put into the Noise. Every time a new consequence of Noise was revealed, it made me reconsider the true impact of my own thoughts. I was basically thinking about thinking in a way I hadn’t thought of before. (Ok, enough of all that.)

The Plot Is Alright

Beyond the concept, is the movie good? 

I’d say it’s decent. It didn’t feel like a drag to watch. The twists and turns of the plot kept me interested, as did the way new facets of Noise are revealed as the movie progresses. Holland and Ridley both give solid performances. It made me want to see them stick it to the bad guy, which is always good.

There are a few things that just felt unnecessary or underdeveloped though. In particular, I’m thinking of the aliens in the movie (or rather, the planet’s native inhabitants, since the humans are colonists). They could pretty much be cut entirely or replaced with other human colonists, and the plot would essentially function the same. That sort of takes the fun out of the sci-fi of it all.

Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley running in Chaos Walking

The Gender Politics Are…Hmmm

Gender plays a central role in Chaos Walking, but it sometimes feels like the movie didn’t know what statement it wanted to make about it.

You can see a touch of progressiveness in it. There’s definitely jabs at toxic masculinity here, from the actions of Todd’s hometown to the way he tells himself to “be a man” and stop crying when he gets emotional. It also doesn’t shoehorn Viola into a romantic relationship with Todd, even though he makes it clear he’s interested (control your Noise, Todd!).

But the central plot hinges on a strict gender division: men project their Noise for everyone to hear, and women don’t. And when you hang your entire plot on a gendered concept – especially a strictly two-gendered concept – well, you should be trying to say something with that choice, right? Otherwise, what’s the point? 

The only thing I can really extrapolate from the Noise scenario is some kind of metaphor about how women are inherently in control of themselves while men are inherently unable to control themselves. And frankly, that’s a shitty takeaway.

Daisy Ridley as Viola in Chaos Walking

The Bottom Line

The gendered-divided premise of Chaos Walking doesn’t really land, but the actual portrayal of Noise and its impact on this society is quite well done. Holland and Ridley play their roles well, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep viewers interested. I just wish this movie actually tried to say something impactful.

Rating: 7/10

Chaos Walking hits theaters and IMAX Friday, March 5.