In Apollo 18, a dreadfully dopey found-footage space horror movie, the big reveal is that moon rocks are actually space spiders. Which isn’t much of a surprise considering the movie’s failure to play out like a convincing astronaut procedural. Of course there are space spiders waiting at the end. But Europa Report is like Apollo 18 done right, or Apollo 13 done more fantastically. Think Sunshine, but with the hearty indie spirit you’d expect from a movie about a privately funded mission to one of Jupiter’s moons.
The space procedural stuff is top notch because it’s not afraid to be mundane. It helps that the international cast of actors doesn’t look like an international cast of actors so much as an international astronaut crew. You might recognize Sharlto Copley from Disrict 9, Michael Nyvquist from the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies, Anamaria Marinca from 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and the other serial killer from the first season of Dexter. But not a one of them looks out of place. Okay, maybe the hot marine biologist is a bit much. But this is mostly a convincing cast working on a lovingly detailed set. What a grand collection of down-to-earth space hardware.
One of the problems with watching this sort of documentary style found-footage, complete with testimony of characters recalling what happened, is that you know which characters are going to be okay, and that furthermore the footage has to find its way back to Earth, where it will be edited and even marked to direct your attention to certain parts of the screen (unless the movie is Apollo 18, which is surprisingly unconcerned with the fact that it’s showing you footage that will blow up in space at the end of the movie). But I love how Europa Report — this is a report, after all — plays with the idea and even earns it.
My main concern watching Europa Report was that at some point it would go off the rails into space spider territory. No such thing happens. It’s too smart for anything other than a gratifying reveal that doesn’t betray the grounded movie you’ve been watching.
Europa Report is available for video on demand now and will have a limited theatrical release next month. Watch it here to support Quarter to Three.