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‘I.S.S.’: Lots of tension but little to say

Jack Travis

The first sci-fi movie of 2024 is official here. I.S.S. is packed with tension, a claustrophobic setting, and. . . little else. The premise is interesting enough to start with, but the plot starts to peter out during the final act.

I.S.S. opens with an astronaut named Dr. Kira Foster (Ariana DeBose) arriving at the International Space Station. She rounds out a crew of six, three Russian cosmonauts and three American astronauts. Kira doesn’t take long to explore her new home and settle in with the crew.

Chris Messina plays a man named Gordon who leads the American team. And Costa Ronin stars as Nicholai, the leader of the Russian team. They quickly establish that politics are forbidden at the dinner table, and everyone strives to get along in space, regardless of what’s happening on Earth.

But trouble soon finds them as dots of bright light appear on the planet’s surface. It quickly becomes clear the world is at war. As the station’s main communications system goes offline, the Americans and Russians receive separate encoded messages. The U.S. and Russia are at war. Each crew receives the same order: Take over the International Space Station by any means necessary.

The space station orbits a heavily damaged Earth, and it’s starting to sink. It needs boosters activated from Earth to stabilize. But with no communications and heightened suspicions, the falling station becomes home to a team that slowly eats itself.

I.S.S. starts well enough for a small sci-fi film. The limited budget and use of questionable CGI could be overlooked if the story had just a bit more substance or if the actors were given more interesting things to do.

DeBose is fine in the lead role, and it can’t be said that any of the crew phoned in their performances. They just weren’t given much of a story to work with. DeBose is supposed to be a biologist studying mice in zero gravity. One of her Russian colleagues, Alexey (Pilou Asbæk), is supposedly working on a treatment for radiation sickness. But neither of those things are explored in depth.

Gordon proceeds to give the audience a by-the-numbers spacewalk, and sad to say, it might be the most interesting part of an otherwise quiet film.

If there’s one thing I.S.S. does right, it’s the setting. The space station set looks great and truly heightens the tension among all the characters. A tightly strung score helps to further exacerbate the audience as everyone tries to figure out who will make it to the end and what future awaits this crew with a ruined planet below them.

I.S.S. will at least keep everyone interested enough to see the end credits, if for no other reason than to find out how everything wraps up. The problem arises when this story runs out of gas with 15 minutes left on the timer and then limps toward an unsatisfying conclusion offering few answers.

What this film proves is riling people up isn’t enough. There needs to be a complete story. If I.S.S. wants to ask questions about the nature of humanity and what drives conflict within the species, it needs to at least attempt to provide an answer or two. Perhaps the final line spoken in the film sums up the only answer I.S.S. managed to provide, “I don’t know.”

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Courtney Lanning is a film critic who appears weekly on <i>Ozarks At Large</i> to discuss the latest in movies.
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