A young man and woman on a distant planet called the New World find themselves on the run from a town of religious fanatics in Chaos Walking, a forthcoming film directed by Doug Liman and based on the award-winning sci-fi trilogy of the same name by Patrick Ness. And the film boasts two megastars: Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey in the most recent Star Wars trilogy, and Tom Holland, the latest incarnation of Spider-Man in the MCEU.
The series consists of three novels—The Knife of Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men—as well as three short stories set in the same fictional universe, intended as companion pieces to the novels. The series takes place on a planet called New World, where we meet Todd, a boy living in a religiously devoted settlement known as Prentisstown, led by the megalomaniac mayor, David Prentiss. There are no women left, and all the men are afflicted by something called the “Noise,” which makes their thoughts audible, driving many of them mad. The same is true for Todd’s little dog, Manchee. This is purportedly the result of biological warfare on the part of a native intelligent species known as Spackle, who resented the arrival of the colonizers. The germ killed all the women and left the men with the Noise.
One day, Todd discovers a patch of silence (a “hole in the Noise”) in a nearby swamp, and when he tells his adoptive parents about it, they insist he has to flee Prentisstown. Back in the swamp, Todd comes face to face with Viola, a young girl who has crash-landed on New World in a small scouting craft, ahead of an incoming ship of new planetary settlers. They are relentlessly pursued by the mayor, his son Davy, and an evil preacher named Aaron as they seek refuge with other, more peaceful settlements—including a town called Haven that is rumored to have a cure for the Noise—in hopes of finding a way to warn the incoming ship of the potential violence they face.
The trilogy’s title is taken from a key line in the first book: “The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.” Ness has said that he got the idea for the trilogy while pondering our current information overload and its impact on young people in particular, as well as his frustration that talking dogs in fiction “never actually talk like… I think dogs would actually talk.” Thematically, he describes the first book as being about flight, the second about tyranny, and the third about war.
Charlie Kaufman penned a first draft of the script but left the project soon after. Numerous script revisions followed, with Ness himself contributing to the effort. (He is also the author of A Monster Calls and wrote the script for that film adaptation.) Then Liman signed on to direct, with Ridley and Holland on board as co-stars. The film was shot in Montreal, Scotland, and Iceland.
Liman’s film looks to follow the first book pretty closely, judging from the trailer, although Todd and Viola are obviously much older in the film (Todd is just about to turn 13 in the first novel). Per the official premise:
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.
The star-studded cast also includes Mads Mikkelson (Doctor Strange) as David Prentiss; Nick Jonas (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and The Next Level) as Davy Prentiss; David Oyelowo (Selma) as the priest Aaron; Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) as Hildy, leader of a peaceful settlement called Farbranch; and Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) and Demián Bichir (The Heat, Alien: Covenant) as Cillian and Ben, Todd’s adoptive fathers.
While it was originally slated for a March 2019 release, Lionsgate was concerned about the poor test screenings and ordered reshoots. Those reshoots didn’t happen until April 2019, given Ridley’s and Holland’s commitments to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Spider-Man: Far From Home, respectively. Reshoots are traditionally seen as an indication that a production is in trouble: X-Men: Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants are prime recent examples. But there are also notable exceptions. Here’s hoping that’s the case for Chaos Walking, which Lionsgate hopes will launch a new franchise.
Chaos Walking is slated for US release on January 22, 2021. Will Lionsgate also include a VOD or similar streaming option? We’ll have to see how things shake out over the next couple of months, in terms of theater reopenings.
Listing image by Lionsgate