Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.
Release Date: January 19th, 2024 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite Actors: Ariana DeBose, Chris Messina, John Gallagher Jr., Masha Mashkova, Costa Ronin, Pilou Asbaek
he International Space Station (I.S.S.) represents that rare United States and Russian collaboration after the Cold War, remaining neutral and beneficial to this day, even after frostier events of the 2020s. It’s a remarkable piece of hardware manned by astronauts from both countries, who use the station as a research facility to make advancements in medicine, technology, and space exploration. “The important thing is that we stick together.”
The two latest voyagers, Dr. Kira Foster (Ariana DeBose) and Christian Campbell (John Gallagher Jr.) from the U.S., arrive to the I.S.S. on the standard Soyuz rocket, where they’re greeted by the current crew of Commander Gordon Barrett (Chris Messina), Weronika Vetrov (Masha Mashkova), Nicholai Pulov (Costa Ronin), and Alexey Pulov (Pilou Asbaek). These three Americans and three Russians share the relatively tight space, keeping up high spirits and cooperation despite a few hiccups from the language barrier (fortunately for American audiences, the brunt of the spoken dialogue is English). As long as they avoid talking politics, especially when it comes to Syria, military service, and the increasingly sticky situations in Washington D.C. and Moscow, they’ll get along just fine. That is, until, a sudden series of explosions can be seen on the planet below, followed by a brief communications blackout that brings paranoid, antagonistic inferences.
“Forget about everything that happens down there.” The initial setup moves quickly and smoothly, managing some decent visuals to simulate weightlessness (not just in place but also as the astronauts move across the vessel, sleep without restraints, and eat/drink), the blackness of space, and mesmerizing shots of Earth from the glass cupola. The I.S.S. set itself is comparably well-designed, presumably decorated with realistic architecture and equipment to go with spacesuits and related paraphernalia, serving as a superb playground for marginally sci-fi concepts. The various compartments are nicely claustrophobic, while the exterior structures pose opposing threats – those of drifting away into endless nothingness. A handful of shots involving antenna repairs on the outside of the station are less convincing, but the shoddier special effects tend to be minimal.
Although the premise may be a bit of a stretch in real life, it’s an undoubtedly timely plot, preying upon the very real fears of audiences who can’t shake negative thoughts about the looming 2024 U.S. Presidential election and what its results may mean for foreign interests. Here, a psychological thriller plays out, pitting adversarial factions against one another in a deadly game of dominance (a microcosm for governmental brinkmanship, perhaps). But even if the motives weren’t based on current world affairs, the basic storyline is easy enough to grasp: teamwork deteriorating into sabotage and trust crumbling into betrayal – essential ideas to create tension and madness amid an intimate group of people.
With horror movie sound effects, the conflicts are nerve-wracking, though there tends to be more waiting and hiding than stalking and killing. Nevertheless, the limited number of players, the shifting allegiances, the careful deception, and the predicaments of survival beyond just avoiding death at the hands of one another prove to be quite engaging. The film does a good job of making everyone believable patriots rather than unfeeling killers, fleshed out with details and personalities that complicate the typical easiness of having them fight on a black-and-white basis. Unfortunately, the conclusion is a touch too generic and open-ended, but at least the overall journey is swift and stimulating.
– Mike Massie