‘I.S.S.’ Boasts a Masterclass in Tension, Creative Collaboration, and Non-Fatal Self-Sabotage

At a look, it might be simple to jot down I.S.S. off as simply one other trope-heavy sci-fi thriller; a crew stranded collectively in area? Tensions rising? Our bodies dropping one after the other? All fairly par for the course, proper?

It’s all of the extra spectacular, then, that by simply twisting just a few tiny narrative knobs on a highway well-traveled, I.S.S. scribe Nick Shafir has managed to raise what would in any other case be a cop-out film concept into one thing miles extra charming, all held collectively by Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s masterful course and an Ariana DeBose-led forged that pulls their weight at each flip — by no means thoughts the truth that they’re in zero-gravity.

The premise of Shafir’s script facilities round three American astronauts (Kira, Gordon, and Christian, performed by DeBose, Chris Messina, and John Gallagher Jr., respectively) and three Russian cosmonauts (Weronika, Nicholai, and Alexey, portrayed by Maria Mashkova, Costa Ronin, and Pilou Asbæk, respectively) who all work collectively in genial concord aboard the Worldwide House Station, however are immediately pitted in opposition to each other when nuclear conflict breaks out between the 2 nations down on Earth, and every crew receives orders to take management of the I.S.S. by any means needed.

Maybe not since Alien has a author and director duo been so harmonious in crafting sci-fi stress as compelling, intelligent, and clever as Shafir and Cowperthwaite have with I.S.S., they usually cut up this large credit score nearly completely evenly. Certainly, the disarming revelations, twists, and deeply uncomfortable subtext dreamt up by Shafir are dropped at spine-chilling life by Cowperthwaite’s distinctive skill to layer claustrophobia, life-threatening belief points, and the already frantic nature of the I.S.S. as a workspace right into a mouth-watering kebab of cinematic anxiousness.

To that time, Cowperthwaite’s course does deserve an extra-special nod for its skill to in some way strengthen every story beat with a delicate contact, somewhat than a extra pronounced one. That’s to not say that I.S.S. doesn’t take full benefit of Anne Nikitin’s gorgeously disturbing soundtrack each time it may, however there’s one thing concerning the under-dramatized strokes dotting the plot that — when mixed with the choice to make use of a good bit of safety digicam footage all through the film — make I.S.S. stand out by being extra accommodating of our capability for disbelief than different movies could be; a trait we doubtless have the director’s documentary background to thank. A chance? Maybe, however let’s not neglect that gambles are the seeds to nice artwork, and Cowperthwaite is one hell of a botanist.

Talking of standouts, it’s arduous to select one from the ocean of nice character work at play right here; Ronin’s portrayal of the matter-of-factly murderous Nicholai crackles simply in addition to the triumphantly mild Kira that DeBose flexes her vary on. However on the finish of the day, it’s not possible to not single out Gallagher Jr.’s efficiency as Christian, whose regular descent into harmful paranoia is totally fascinating to watch. It helps that his scenes had essentially the most kinetic connective tissue for the strain, positive, however Gallagher Jr. completely ran with each probability he was given, and that’s worthy of a shoutout.

It’s in the direction of the top of the 95-minute runtime that I.S.S. begins to buckle a bit below its weight; earlier on, the movie units up some wonderful thematic meat because the six spacegoers gaze upon a pre-devastated Earth, marveling at their skill to actually take a look at their residence planet with none observable borders, and whereas that does tee up a political musing or two to chew on, that theme doesn’t fairly find yourself clicking in any actually compelling means, which is very disappointing given what seemed to be an intriguing promise on the outset.

It’s additionally arduous to say whether or not Shafir wrote himself right into a nook or if Cowperthwaite simply needed to make some powerful calls, however the dialogue suffered vastly as I.S.S. started to wind down. Maybe it wouldn’t have been as noticeable had the vast majority of the movie’s dialogue not been so expertly crafted and delivered with all of the significant intention and pure playfulness (when acceptable) you could possibly ever ask for, however the occasions of the movie finally led us to a degree the place a couple of character resorts to saying their revelations out loud when nobody else is within the room; it’s arguably a needed evil on condition that the I.S.S. and it’s many bells, whistles, and screens may cover many an unfamiliar visible cue for the typical moviegoer, however the ensuing dissonance was only a teensy bit too jarring to forgive.

As for the ending itself, with out veering too deeply into spoiler territory, potential viewers will most likely be comfortable to know that I.S.S. doesn’t wrap itself up in a neat and tidy bow, which is surprisingly indicative of each its strengths and its limits on the identical time. On the one hand, a narrative like this might most likely by no means be cleanly resolved, for lack of a greater phrase; that’s particularly refreshing in at present’s panorama, and Shafir is owed a tip of the hat for sticking with an unsure ending, even when a extra sure ending would have most likely required extra effort on his half, mockingly sufficient.

However, nonetheless, the ending itself doesn’t fairly boast a punchy sufficient payoff to be notably satisfying, which is made extra disappointing when one considers how swell of a job Shafir did within the setup part of the plot. Had I.S.S. made the choice to actually burrow into its themes greater than it did, the ending would most likely have been a lot better, however under no circumstances ought to that indicate that its determination to be a strain cooker to the nervous system was an incorrect one; all artistic selections include artistic sacrifices, and I.S.S. fairly commendably performed to the strengths of everybody concerned.

All in all, I.S.S. works far, much better than any movie of its variety normally has any proper to, and all of it comes all the way down to using that tight runtime in tandem with a author, director, and forged who all perceive the project inside and outside; particularly, to go away nary a single unraised hair on the again of anybody’s neck. Its shaky setup-payoff skill and a handful of somewhat dire technical slipups forestall it from actually ascending past the Milky Means, however I.S.S. noticed many roads forward of it and selected what was undoubtedly one of the best one for it, and the assured, even shocking means that in managed to stroll that highway makes for some heartily worthwhile viewing for sci-fi junkies and thrill-seekers alike.


Gabriela Cowperthwaite orchestrates Nick Shafir’s incredible script and deftly on-the-ball gamers to uniquely jolting impact, even when the end line was finally extra glimpsed than crossed.