'Europa Report' Review: In Space, No One Can See You Borrow from Other Movies

Europa Report

For all the wonder and wealth of untapped knowledge it holds, deep space is inherently pretty freaky, if for no other reason than that we really aren't supposed to be there, so if you venture out there and stuff goes wrong, you're basically going to die alone in an endless, inky black expanse of nothingness.

That's the lingering tickle of dread that lurks at the edges of any good space thriller -- and although Europa Report falls more into the "pretty okay, with qualifications" category, it must be said that director Sebastian Cordero does manage to establish, and slowly build, a nicely nasty mood. If he doesn't always pull off full-on dread, there's at least a consistent note of discomfort that thrums beneath the movie -- one that continues to linger even after you realize you're sitting through a fairly standard creature feature.

But before its disappointing denouement, Europa Report does offer a fair bit of stealthily absorbing entertainment -- no small feat, given that Cordero opted to use the increasingly stale found-footage technique to tell the tale of a space crew (played by, among others, Sharlto Copley of District 9 and Elysium, Michael Nyqvist of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, and Daniel Wu from The Man with the Iron Fists) on a mission to determine whether water exists on Jupiter's moon Europa. Like James Wan with The Conjuring, Cordero does himself a lot of favors by letting the story unfold at a sensible pace -- which, in this case, means leaving room for a lot of what appears to be meaningless dawdling around on a spaceship.

By slowing things down, Europa Report ends up feeling a lot longer than its 91-minute running time, and it runs the risk of boring viewers weaned on more jolt-dependent fare. But it also lets you get to know the characters, and gives screenwriter Philip Gelatt a chance to develop them as real people (a cause in which he's capably abetted by that well-chosen cast), so when things start going wrong for our heroes, it really hits you where it hurts. The movie's dramatic centerpiece, a scene anchored by Copley, is genuinely chilling; for awhile, even though you don't know exactly where the movie's taking you, you start to develop a certainty that it's going to be a worthwhile destination.

That it ultimately isn't is more of a disappointment than a surprise -- so few thrillers are able to stick the landing in the final act these days -- but it still knocks most of the teeth out of Europa Report, reducing it to a passable diversion instead of a truly compelling sci-fi flick. Regardless, you're liable to come away from the movie feeling slightly let down rather than truly annoyed; if the sum is rather less than its parts, those parts are often more entertaining than you might expect.

(One final side note: I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that Europa Report was filmed on a sound stage in Brooklyn, which is fairly remarkable given how seamless -- and occasionally darned impressive -- its special effects can be. The visual gap between low- and big-budget filmmaking can look awfully small sometimes.)

Europa Report is currently available via Amazon, iTunes, and other major VOD platforms.

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Jeff is an entertainment writer and editor whose work currently appears at a variety of sites, including Rotten Tomatoes, Paste, American Songwriter, Popdose, Dadnabbit, Diffuser, and Ultimate Classic Rock.

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