thu 18/07/2024

I S S review - sci-fi with a sting in the tail | reviews, news & interviews

I.S.S. review - sci-fi with a sting in the tail

I.S.S. review - sci-fi with a sting in the tail

The imperilled space station isn't the worst place to be

Ring-side seat: Ariana DeBose in 'I.S.S.'Universal International

Earthrise, the 1968 Apollo 8 photograph of our small island of a planet, taken from the Moon’s surface, transformed our vision of our fragile home world. “To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats,” wrote Archibald MacLeish, “is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold.”

In I.S.S., a swift, smart science-fiction thriller set aboard the real-life international space station, a new crew member, Dr. Kira Foster (Ariana DeBose), is similarly awestruck, and humbled, by that homeward glance. As her colleague, a Russian scientist named Weronika Vetrov (Masha Mashkova), explains, “From here, there are no borders.”

This miniature utopia implodes when old Cold War tensions turn hot. The crew watches in horror as nuclear warfare breaks out below. A glitch severs communications with mission control in both Houston and Moscow – just as the Americans receive an ominous order to take over the I.S.S. “by any means necessary.”

Worse, they assume that the Russians got a similar order. One minute the Russo-American crew chugs vodka shots and sings along to the Cold War anthem “Winds of Change” by Scorpions, the next they’re stalking each other with shivs and power drills. (There are a surprising number of deathly sharp tools aboard a flying tin can with a hull less than a centimetre thick.)

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) and screenwriter Nick Shafir nimbly sketch out the station’s cramped layout and the possibly false bonhomie among the crew, turning I.S.S. into a taut sci-fi take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. Before mayhem breaks out, though, there’s little time to learn much about the skeleton crew.

Aside from Dr. Foster, a military biologist who sweet-talks her animal-experiment subjects (space mice!), there’s a studly U.S. commander (Chris Messina), who’s not-so-secretly in love with charming Dr. Vetrova, and a brawny, vaguely sinister Russian biologist (Pilou Asbaek). Less said the better about a crew member who moans about his ex-wife and lousy divorce settlement. When all hell breaks loose – and air is running out – it’s no secret who’s going to crack first.

The movie’s most coolly terrifying moment comes when a spacewalking astronaut sees what the rest of the crew cannot: the world consumed in a nuclear firestorm. Looming over the modest, scary confines of I.S.S. – the real space station and the movie – the question isn’t which characters will survive, but whether we all will.

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