Title: Europa Report
Director: Sebastian Cordero
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Embeth Davidtz, Daniel Wu, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra, Anamaria Marinca
A buzzy American premiere at this summer’s Los Angeles Film Festival, director Sebastian Cordero’s low-boil, sci-fi thriller “Europa Report” has racked up rapturous reviews (it presently stands just shy of 80 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) in large part because of the stark contrast in which it stands to most like-minded genre efforts. Undeniably, it is elegant, understated and wonderfully designed. Unfortunately, it’s also frustratingly hackneyed — a solidly cast, interesting budget concept absolutely wrecked by cross-cutting and needless voiceover.
Penned by Philip Gelatt (“The Bleeding House”), the film centers on a mission to Jupiter’s titular icy moon, to investigate the possibility of alien life within our solar system. Six astronauts from all over the globe (Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra and Anamaria Marinca) are selected for the mission, and after a forced correction on their landing leaves them 100 meters from their designed spot for settling, they soon experience a loss of communication with their Earth-bound handler (Embeth Davidtz), and a discovery more shocking and profound than they could have imagined.
“Europa Report” is anchored by its visuals; cinematographer Enrique Chediak helped design an innovative eight-camera system, wherein lenses are given fixed positions throughout the spaceship, which was created in concert with Oscar-winning production designer Eugenio Caballero. This makes for a unique low-budget experience — one that conveys both the wonderment and claustrophobia of outer space travel.
Director Cordero’s framing and editing choices are terrible, however — full of woeful miscalculations from almost the outset, where mixed direct-address monologues create more of a sense of confusion than audience identification. The story, a bit of speculative/alternative history a la “Apollo 18″ or “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” is in and of itself fine, but the manner in which “Europa Report” ping-pongs back and forth between different time periods, settings and modes — pre-launch interviews from Earth, omniscient camera footage from the craft, “Real World”-style confessionals from the craft, press conferences from Earth, etcetera — becomes at first wearying and then just ire-provoking.
There are moments of wonder here — Bear McCreary’s pulsing music, and the austere artfulness of a character drifting off to death in the void of outer space — but “Europa Report” is a movie that is less than the sum of its parts. For low-fidelity science-fiction, try “Moon” instead.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements, “Europa Report” is also available across VOD platforms.
Written by: Brent Simon