I.S.S. – Review

I.S.S. (2024)

The space thriller is a movie genre that certainly has its highs, like Gravity, The Martian, and Alien and lows, like Life, Passengers, and Voyagers. The sub-genre has to include the mystery and unforgiving nature of space, while also conflict between characters to accomplish a mission. Space is the one constant that man can’t completely control. In the new film I.S.S. (which stands for the International Space Station), asks the question, what if the conflict has nothing to do with the characters themselves? In fact, what if the conflict was completely out of their control.

Written by first-time screenwriter Nick Shafir and directed by journeywoman Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Megan Leavey, Our Friend), I.S.S. follows biologist turned astronaut Dr. Kira Foster, played by Academy Award-winner Ariana DeBose (West Side Story, Hamilton). She joins the crew of the I.S.S., one American and three Russians, along with a big ball of nervous energy Christian, played by John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane, The Miseducation of Cameron Post).

After the pair settle in for their first days onboard, a nuclear war breaks out between the United States and Russia, as the crew receive new orders to take over the space station by any means necessary. Although the crew had no part in the conflict, their duty as scientist binds them to helping out mankind, regardless of nationality. However, when Russian commander Nicholai, played by Costa Ronin (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Red Dog), takes his duty too far with his conflict with the American commander, played by Chris Messina (Air, Birds of Prey), each crewmember — who’s rightfully confused and worried about their loved ones on Earth — is at risk.

The interesting thing about I.S.S. is that some blindly act on their new orders, while others are hesitant and want more information. Are scientists soldiers, or are they simply scientists? However, the themes aren’t really explored to their most logical conclusion, as the film becomes a standard space thriller as each crewmember is picked off one-by-one until the end — which is smartly ambiguous.

The screenplay from Nick Shafir is tight, clever, and well-written, but lacks the punch or originality to make I.S.S. memorable or rewatchable. The decision to keep the story on the space station is smart, as the audience is left in the dark about what’s happening on Earth as much as the crew themselves. It really does check all the boxes for an engaging space thriller, but doesn’t have the oomph to get it over the finish line, or stick the landing — so to speak. Cowperthwaite direction is serviceable with some visual flairs, like zero gravity set pieces and action, while the performances and motivations are just boilerplate.

Perhaps I.S.S. might have benefited from leaning into its “B-movie” genre concept more, instead of being so middle-of-the-road, while the film itself is merely a ho-hum experience with a lot of potential wasted floating in space.

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Rudie Obias lives in Brooklyn, New York. He’s a writer and editor who is interested in cinema, pop culture, music, NBA basketball, science fiction, and web culture. His work can be found at IGN, Fandom, TV Guide, Metacritic, Yahoo!, Battleship Pretension, Mashable, Mental Floss, and of course, BRWC.


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