Running Time: 90 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – HCF Official Artist
With the Oscar and box office success of the Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D extravaganza, Gravity, it seems like the perfect time to release the 2013 produced and lesser known sci-fi, Europa Report. Unlike most other efforts of late, Sebastian Cordero uses scientifically plausible scenarios to achieve tension and thrills and this gripping drama is all the more impressive for it. It’s a far better film than Gravity and light years ahead of Prometheus.
Europa Report documents the findings of a privately funded but doomed research mission into deep space. The crew of six men and woman (Michael Nyqvist, Sharlto Copley, Daniel Wu, Christian Camargo, Anamaria Marinca, and Karolina Wydra) plan to follow up findings of life on the moon of Jupiter. Not only has Europa a large quantity of ice but has elements of oxygen in its atmosphere also. However the opening moments inform us that things have not gone well with the mission as scientists on the ground struggle to why communications have been cut from the mission. Through a mix of found footage and expertly filmed set pieces, we’ll soon find out. By the time that the crew, or what’s left of it, make it to Europa things have already gone from bad to worse. The fact that an unknown and unwelcoming entity awaits their arrival there does not signal that their mission is going to get any better.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for reading this review and thinking that a sci-fi yarn based on scientific fact (for the most part), located within the confines of a cluttered, claustrophobic spacecraft and made on a low budget was heading towards snooze city, but Europa Report is anything but. Firstly there is an air of dread and melancholy from the opening moments. We know the crew are doomed and that something awful is likely to happen to these characters. The director wisely chooses to throw us straight into the action with character development achieved through the crew’s interaction with each other and responses to stressful and perilous situations. The cast is spot on with Nyqvist (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Wu (The Man with the Iron Fists) and Marinca (Dr Who) all impressive in their respective roles. Yet it is Copley that shines brightest. It is interesting to witness him in a laid back role after playing a villain, nutter or idiot in films such as Elisym, District 9 or A-Team. He gives a subtle and heart-breaking performance and features in my favourite scene of 2013. The filming of this sequence does not rely on flashy CGI effects or a dramatic score but shows how good acting and skilled cinematography can achieve something truly special, beautiful and devastating. But then again, that is why Cordero’s film works so well. There are no villains, cheap shocks or characters going into dramatics when things go wrong, just a group of dedicated professionals sacrificing their lives in the name of science. The last quarter is truly thrilling and deply moving without the use of explosions or violence.
Europa Report is the best sci-fi film since Duncan Jones Moon in 2009. The subtle but enchanting score, bleak visuals and stellar performances result in a movie that needs to be discovered by a mass audience rather than a select few.