We’re mere days away from getting the full film line up for the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and by way of the Spotlight Screenings, we’re getting a taste of the sorts of films that will be at this year’s festival. Having covered the horror/gore aspect last time, the festival programmer brought us a night of sci-fi & dark comedy in Europa Report and The Dirties.
Using a 2-year long outward mission to Jupiter’s Moon Europa as the backdrop for this sci-fi thriller, Europa Report is an intense and beautiful film, but suffers at the hand of the found-footage/Big-Brother style of filming. For the most part, the acting and storyline are solid, overall this is a great film, and worth the watch. The small fault lies somewhere between the non-chronological storyline, and not fully commiting to the found-footage concept.
We are introduced to Europa One’s crew, about six months into their mission, when communication back to mission control is lost. We spend mere minutes with flashes of the next year and half as they approach Europa, and then are thrust back in time to launch day, before the rest of the movie plays out both at the 6-month mark, and on Europa itself. The characters are compelling and believable. We are emotionally attracted to each for different reasons. The heart of the mission lies with the pilot Rosa, and she serves as (for lack of a better term) our main character. The ensemble is great, even Sharlto Copley‘s goofy American accent isn’t enough to shake our fondness for him.
We are offered interviews with the Mission Leaders throughout the film, which obviously take place after the mission, and the information and details of the report of their findings – sadly these offer little more than exposition rants, and aren’t entirely needed. Although it might be intended to bring an emotional, reactionary side to the events we’re watching unfold, in the end it actually leaves me less invested in the crew’s fate, knowing that regardless of their survival, the details and findings they set out for made it back, safe and sound.
If the movie hadn’t wavered between found-footage and documentary-style, and had just had us alongside the crew and watch the mission unfold, not knowing if earth would ever hear from them again, this would have made for a more emotionally invested story. Not only for the individual lives at stake, but the entire depth of knowledge they discover on Europa. In the end, I still very much enjoyed the film, so I only slightly mourn for the film it could have been.
Found-footage films are all the rage right now since The Blair Witch Project showed that some improv and a camcorder could scare the pants off people. There are, what, 8 Paranormal Activities out there now? It’s a successful genre because its gritty low-budget look lets people feel that it could be real. But what do you get when a filmmaker decides to do a found footage drama of mind-blowingly high quality? And it’s set in space? You get something very cool.
The effects were so well done that you really could believe that they were in space, and in a way do let you forget that you’re watching fiction. The claustrophobia of the ship is impressed upon you, but fear comes more from all of the space outside the ship – the vast loneliness between the astronauts and home, especially after their communications link is severed.
The cast is stellar and did a great job of subtly displaying the various interpersonal dynamics. Since it is an ensemble it is interesting how they have some pretty big names (Sharlto Copely and Michael Nyqvist!) playing essentially bit parts to each other. But with no one character overshadowing the others they all just seem like nice, competent people trying to fulfill a goal, and no dark secrets that earn them the disasters that plague their mission.
Major Spoilers Ahead
After all of their struggles to find the faintest evidence of life on Europa they are facing death as the catastrophes pile on. The brave decision is made to sacrifice the slim hope of survival for the chance to send their data (and thus the found footage) back home. In the last unbearably tense moments of the film, water from Europa rushes in to the module, floods the chamber – and then freeze frame on something decidedly alien. It is discussed by their lead scientists back on Earth that we we’re definitely not alone now, and the final act of sending this proof home made the whole mission worth it. The final image (very Matrix-y) and its implication is very cool, the idea that the scientists really were being picked off one by one by a malevolent force. Sequel hook?
But If I had to give any criticism to the movie I would say that making the decision to go hard sci-fi right at the end with the image of the robot squid or whatever it is they found, sort of killed the message for me. They had already found cells that were proof of life, and the movie could have ended with their deaths the result of unpreventable accidents, and I would have been very pleased with a film that asks you to consider what you would be willing to risk for the betterment of mankind. I don’t think they needed to find the alien to have made it all worth it, so its discovery almost overshadows the tragedy of their lost lives.
It’s just a lingering thought I’ve had, and in no way takes away from my enjoyment though. If it does leave room for a potential sequel I was so impressed with Europa Report that I am completely on board with that.
The Full Line-up will be Announced Monday, September 30th!
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