I.S.S. Review

Shortly after Kira (Ariana DeBose) and Christian (John Gallagher Jr) arrive on the International Space Station, war breaks out down below between the USA and Russia. The Russo-American crew must decide whether to obey orders and “secure” the I.S.S. — and how best to do so.  

by Helen O’Hara |
Published on
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I.S.S. (2024)

“Life in space is impossible,” the opening crawl of Gravity informed us — and every movie about a space station certainly seems to agree. Here’s yet another crew experiencing breakdown and terror in the vacuum. While this one avoids the hoariest clichés (the helpless victim behind sealed doors), it also swerves into action when its very premise seems designed for psychological terror instead.


Kira (Ariana DeBose) is a newcomer to the International Space Station, welcomed aboard by the half-American, half-Russian crew. She’s barely begun her second day when nuclear war breaks out back on Earth. The US commander, Gordon (Chris Messina), and his Russian counterpart, Nicholai (Costa Ronin), are both ordered to secure the station. That could have been the premise for a tragically effective, dramatic thriller, with six scientists trying to figure out whether they can trust one another and re-establish contact with a ruined world. Instead, all hell breaks loose.

When things should build to a climax, they fizzle instead.

The result is moderately tense, but oddly not as stressful as it should be — and everything that director Gabriela Cowperthwaite does to ratchet up the fear, like throwing in malfunctioning thrusters on the I.S.S. itself, somehow detracts from the horror. The Earth’s surface is a fiery holocaust; Messina’s face when confronted with the extent of it is the most upsetting moment of the film. Yet the rest have no time to deal with the existential question of what, precisely, they’re fighting for when everyone they’ve ever met might be dead; instead, they continue to go through the motions of conflict, though admittedly with mounting paranoia. When things should build to a climax, they fizzle instead.

It’s pretty clear who’ll take the first shot, and who’ll go space crazy. DeBose’s Kira seesaws back and forth between ultra-competence and utter naivety according to the requirements of each scene, but there’s effective support from Pilou Asbæk as the shifty Alexey, Masha Mashkova as the likeable Weronika and especially Messina. It’s not a disaster — well, its setting is — but this feels too bloodless for such a terrifyingly plausible tale.

Tense and occasionally disturbing, but somehow you’re left with the nagging suspicion that what should have been a meaty psychological drama has been turned into a slightly insipid thriller instead.
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