VOD film review: Europa Report
James R | On 06, Mar 2014
Director: Sebastián Corderop
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Daniel Wu, Michael Nyqvist, Anamaria Marinca
“Even if we find there’s nothing out there, it’s still an effective discovery.”
That’s the scientists aboard the first manned flight to Jupiter moon, Europa. The aim of the mission? The same as always: to discover if there’s life out there. The result? The same as always: things go horribly wrong.
But while many sci-fi flicks would wait for that reveal, Europa Report makes it clear right from the start by presenting the whole thing as found footage. “Really? Another found footage movie?” you ask yourself. But ignore that bad feeling you have about this space outing and dock with it on VOD, because this is something quietly original.
The film’s directed by Sebastián Cordero, not that you’d notice: stitched together from CCTV cameras on the shuttle, we witness events from stationary camera positions. It’s an understated approach to say the least, but it stops anything distracting from Philip Gelatt’s equally slimline script.
We’re soon introduced to the usual mix of motley crew members, but the cast make the most of their rudimentary roles, with Michael Nyqvist (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Sharlto Copley (District 9) particularly fleshing out their characters. Nyqvist’s gruff engineer is the likeable veteran of the piece, while Copley brings a welcome note of humour to the dry scenes of day-to-day operations and straight-faced discussions.
As technical errors strike, that calm composure gradually crumbles, at one point leaving an astronaut stranded outside the airlock. It’s a sequence highly reminiscent of Gravity, a comparison that only highlights Europa Report’s lack of studio money.
And yet the movie is all the better for it: after all, this is an exercise in low-key storytelling. Its underplayed presentation by 127 Hours DoP Enrique Chediak gives events a realistic edge while the short runtime of 90 minutes makes sure the tension is never stretched out. Money aside, the fear was that Alfonso Cuaron’s groundbreaking thriller would stop anyone being able to do space again – but Europa Report proves that if you have strong enough ambition and the creativity to see it through, you can still make something compelling and unique.
If Gravity is a survival horror, plunging us into the breathtaking aftermath of a disaster, then Sebastián Cordero’s story is the bit before the horror: a slow build-up to an encounter with an external threat that uses its budget effects to conjure an atmosphere closer to retro sci-fi than modern CGI. As Anamaria Marinca’s pilot, Rosa, rises to the fore to make the tough decisions amid the dark dilemmas, Europe Report becomes an neat take on the experience of exploring space; a nuanced balance between the thrill of finding somewhere new (a sense of adventure missing from many modern blockbusters) and the dread of unknown danger.
Intercut with a downbeat narrator commenting on the footage, what you might expect to be a doomed final act could feel like something of an anti-climax, but it’s a striking reminder that it’s not what’s out there that matters – it’s the act of going out there in the first place. “Even if we find there’s nothing, it’s still an effective discovery,” the crew tell themselves. Europa Report definitely finds something out there – the result is an effective sci-fi that’s well worth discovering.