Director: Sebastian Cordero
Stars: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist
3 (out of 5) Globes
Films about outer space have eternally avoided accuracy, in large part because a purely realistic portrayal of space travel would be, for lack of a better word, boring. The low budget “Europa Report” features a mission to Jupiter, escalating insanity, a repair job gone tragically awry, even a potentially belligerent alien beast. But even with these fantastical elements it stays resolutely fact-based and convincing, even if it’s been crafted in such a way that the tedium of a lengthy deployment isn’t tedious to watch.
Indeed, the only images we see are of the fake found footage variety. The mission, to investigate potential life on the titular moon, resulted, we’re told, in the deaths of the worldly crew, including Sharlto Copley, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”’s Michael Nykvist and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”’s Anamaria Marinca. (A strangely credible Dan Fogler plays one of the scientists back on Earth.) They’re glimpsed entirely through on-board cameras transmitted back to base, including one that allows for “Real World”-esque confessionals. The film was shot not on some major studio lot, but in Brooklyn.
That “Europa Report” isn’t boring is a small tragedy, actually, as a film about the wear of over a dozen months trapped inside a cramped spaceship — even one stocked with an all-star cast of international thespians — would be most welcome. (It would have to be handled by retired Hungarian long-take miserablist Bela Tarr, whose “Satantango” and “The Turin Horse” make time itself evaporate.) “Europa Report” is anxious about losing viewers’ patience, cutting about like mad between cameras, even periodically jumping around on its timeline right when things are settling into a monotonous groove. Its best parts aren’t about its few thrills, but grumblings about wearing the same clothes every day or misplacing one’s toothbrush.
What it is, ultimately, is a resourceful thriller, one that doesn’t sacrifice brains for excitement. The cast does a fine job remaining anonymous and unknowable — over-the-top personalities would ruin the verisimilitude — although some (like Marinca) seem downright zombielike until their own lives are put in danger. Ecuadorian director Sebastian Cordero (“Cronicas”) impressively stays calm, but knows when to bust loose. A shocking midfilm death is a blood curdling first-person depiction of drifting freely into the oblivion of space, while the ending finally provides the sense of awe that has been intentionally dampered by the allegiance to strict (or strict-ish) verisimilitude.