Starring: Ariana DeBose, Chris Messina, Pilou Asbæk, John Gallagher Jr., Costa Ronin, and Maria Mashkova
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
As far as B-movies go, especially those that get quietly dumped in theaters during the doldrums of January, I.S.S. offers enough tense astronaut-related thrills to keep one entertained for 95 minutes. Yeah, it’s predictable, and sure, it will remind you of everything from Gravity to Pandorum to Stowaway to even Alien, but still… Given the context of the release and dearth of expectations surrounding I.S.S., it does a solid job of building the claustrophobic paranoia necessary to make this simple story work. Add in the fact that the story is plausible, not to mention the moral questions it asks, I’d call it a pleasant surprise.
I.S.S. presents a simple yet compelling concept that makes the most of its unique setting. Exploring the dynamics of a group of astronauts amid mounting paranoia and distrust, it generates a sense of palpable tension that is emphasised by growing external threats. However, despite its strong start and impressive visuals on a limited budget, I found it lost some of its initial sense of dread while also lacking some of the excitement and heightened threat found in other space thrillers. That said, this is a fun watch that sustained my interest, and it’s elevated by engaging performances.
As opposed to aliens, the major threat in I.S.S. actually is the monster that exists inside of us. This gripping sci-fi thriller presents a clever concept, but unfortunately falls short due to its lack of stakes. Nevertheless, it's still captivating enough to hold viewers' attention. Plus, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite does a fine job of making the most of the claustrophobic tension inside the spaceship while also making sure that I.S.S. remains a character-driven drama despite the main action taking place on Earth.
With January being a bit of a down month for film quality, I wouldn’t be surprised to see I.S.S. gain a little traction. The unsettling premise survives on its frighteningly possible real-world implications (which dials the tension up to 11) and solid ensemble, featuring the burgeoning Ariana DeBose alongside a The Newsroom reunion of John Gallagher Jr. and Chris Messina. Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights it aims for, it’s never not engaging as it harkens back to the days of 1990s B-movies. It's not going to light the world on fire, but it’ll make for a more than serviceable movie night.