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January 19, 2024 / Elevation Pictures

Starring: Ariana DeBose, Chris Messina, Pilou Asbaek, John Gallagher Jr., Costa Ronin, Masha Mashkova

Directed By: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Tensions flare in the near future aboard the International Space Station as a worldwide conflict breaks out on Earth. Reeling from this, the astronauts receive orders from the ground: take control of the station by any means necessary. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, working with Nick Shafir’s Blacklist script, brings together a stellar cast that includes Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose, Chris Messina, Pilou Asbaek, John Gallagher Jr., Costa Ronin, and Masha Mashkova, in a high-stakes thriller set entirely in the confines of the I.S.S. as astronauts are called to duty in fateful and terrifying ways.

Written By Kurt

Rating 2 out of 5

It’s a tell as old as cinematic time….. or at least since it peaked in the 1980’s. The United States against Russia. We’ve seen it take place in War Games, The Hunt for Red October, Red Dawn TWICE and even at the height of the Cold War itself (and my personal favourite), Rocky IV, which punched its way to becoming a global box office success in 1985.

Tensions seem high here in the real world, which makes this plot of an act of war by Russia against the United States that much more gut-wrenching to think about. We find the movie starting on a very high and happy note, as Dr. Kira Foster played by Oscar winner Ariana DeBose has made her way to the International Space Station to conduct research. She meets two American colleagues - Gordon (Chris Messina) who seems like the leader of the pack, and Christian (John Gallagher Jr.) along with three Russian astronauts, Alexey (Pilou Asbæk), Weronika (Masha Mashkova) and the stern, seemingly Pro-Iron Curtain-esque Nicholai (Costa Ronin).

The casting is great across the board with everyone playing a role that you would expect aboard in a space-based thriller, almost harkening back to 1979’s Alien where quickly the cast of characters is introduced but given one-liner introductions that make a mark while foreshadowing what is to come.

The one thing I do believe the film is missing most though is more depth to these characters. They are likable individually and the few moments we get to experience with them together are enjoyable, especially as they are able to understand the cultural differences in their upbringings and memories. It’s small little moments that I wish could have lasted a few minutes more, because it would have helped pack a bit more of a punch as the tension rises on earth and with their new mission aboard the I.S.S.. The plot is simple: War has broken out between the United States and Russia. The International Space Station must be taken control of, by any means necessary. Cool, right? Why hasn’t anyone thought of this already??

Writer Nick Shafir’s first Hollywood writing credit showcases a great start to what I hope is a long career, while veteran American director Gabriela Cowperthwaite is able to make the most out of the film’s budget (which is yet to be released), as its special effects looked gorgeous and well developed and the set design very well put together.

But for all the visual space flare it packs, it lacks the inherent claustrophobia I wanted from a thriller set on a space station, in both story and in setting. The thing that makes the idea of this premise so promising is it is country vs country on the ground but man vs man in the sky. The numbers game is equal up there, yet I never once felt like an underlying sense of “Oh, this might not end well for _____’s character”. The performances are great through and through but something just feels missing due to the not so subtle foreshadowing and rushed pace along with never believing anyone was in danger.

I think the primary reason for that is the film short runtime, which clocks in at 1 hour and 35 mins. The pacing feels very scurried after the war has broken out on the ground between the two nations, and with little set up prior to that regarding our characters and their backstory, the same can be said about the action that follows. Nothing feels very tense. It’s all very rushed. I would be interested to see what a final product with a runtime of about twenty minutes longer would have looked like because therein lies a great movie, not just an entertaining but passable one.

I.S.S. is a fine 90 minute watch and had the potential to be a great sci-fi thriller. Sadly it doesn’t hit the mark on either thrills or what it has to say about blind nationalism that its characters portray.

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