Company: Outpost Studios
Runtime: 90 mins
Plot: An international crew of astronauts undertake a privately-funded groundbreaking mission to search for life on Jupiter's fourth largest moon, Europa.
Review: Europa Report was one of those movies I had heard of and knew about the existence of, but other then it's title and very basic premise, I stayed away from any other word on it because it felt to me like one of those movies that the least you know about it going in, the better it will be.
As for it's plot, anybody familiar with the classic sci-fi novel 2010: Odyssey Two (sequel to the even more classic 2001: A Space Odyssey), will already be pretty familiar with it. In that novel (not the movie adaptation of it, since that left this part out) there's one chapter that talks about Chinese astronauts landing on one of the moons of Jupiter, the ice-covered moon Europa, to search for fresh flowing water to convert into fuel or some such (memory is shaky on that, at best) and of course things go very very wrong, they run afoul of some major issues, and get attacked by a pretty creepy unexpected assailant that had been dormant in the ice. Now I wouldn't go so far as to say that this movie is a full-on adaptation of that chapter of the book, but I will say that at the very least it was heavily inspired by it as there are quite a large number of similarities. Suffice to say, if you enjoyed that said chapter in 2010: Odyssey Two, then you'll more then likely enjoy Europa Report. Another, much quicker way to describe this movie could also be to simply say that it's the 2012 found footage space horror movie Apollo 18, but actually done right.
Just like Apollo 18, Europa Report is also shot in the 'Found Footage' style of filmmaking that we here at the B-Movie Shelf tend to love when done right (something that Apollo 18 most certainly was not). This is a movie, especially due to its low budget, that actually benefited quite well from this style; From the tightly claustrophobic but bright confines of the spaceship interiors to the vastly beautiful but shadowed icy Europa landscape, the 'from the camera' perspective really helps aid in making you feel like you're there, exploring with these characters, every step of the way. It also helps that the camera perspective angle, similar to another recent found footage movie The Bay, comes from multiple different sources and isn't just from one hand-held shaky home video camera. With this being the first attempt to send humans into deep space, there's stationary cameras positioned all over the interior as well as exterior of the ship itself, in addition to helmet cams in the spacesuits - after all, they would want everything on such a momentous mission to be recorded and meticulously documented, so it actually makes sense for this movie to be from that kind of P.O.V. Also, again much like in The Bay, the movie itself plays more like a fictional documentary on this mysterious and unexplainable event, with the footage that makes up the 'found footage' part of the narrative being shown throughout this documentary as part of that, mixed in alongside other documentary tropes such as Talking Head interviews, dramatic background music, news footage, and some overlaid narrations. The only thing I don't really like about this approach, is that it very often takes you out of the moment in the actual found footage, after it worked so hard to draw you in, to cut to more of the documentary stuff like the Talking Head interviews and news footage, thus loosing much of the impact that the tension-filled and atmospheric found footage parts would have otherwise had.
Now, I'm no scientist or space travel expert by any means, but continuing on with the realistic way that the found footage approach was incorporated, it also seemed to me like a hell of a lot of thought and extra effort went into this movie to make it as scientifically accurate as possible when it came to the technology, the space flight, and how certain things worked in space and on Europa - all those kinds of finer details seemed quite meticulous and realistic, which if that was indeed the case, then hats off to the makers for going that extra mile. Usually when a movie focuses so much on being scientifically accurate it kind of forgets that it needs to be enjoyable as well, but this one I felt was the perfect mix of the two, which only added to the realism.
Starring in this little sci-fi/thriller, we have Embeth Davidtz, who played the medieval hottie love interest from Army of Darkness, as the lead scientist on Earth in charge of this privately-funded program and is the source of the main Talking Head interview that the movie keeps cutting to, in addition to Dan Fogler playing another respected head scientist, which is certainly coming a long way from his hilariously role of the immature Hutch on Fanboys. Moving onto the main crew of the deep space mission, we have Michael Nyqvist, who is most famous for playing Mikael Blomkvist in the original Swedish version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, Sharlto Copley from the excellent low budget District 9, and Karolina Wydra who played a recurring guest star on the TV shows House and True Blood. There are a few others on the space crew, but that covers all the people that the average viewer would probably recognize and know.
As for those members of the space crew, drifting through the empty void of space for a couple years while they traveled, stuck in such a small and confined ship, it was great (and again, realistic) seeing their mental states slowly deteriorate even before they reach their destination of Europa. Actually, by the point we're first introduced to them at the start of the movie, they're all already at various points down the slope of depression and having tensions growing between them, due to their tight confines and total isolation from society, nay from Earth, for so long. We do end up going back and forth several times during the movie, so we get bits and pieces at a time as to how the events leading up to this point, but it was still a different and quite effective way to start the movie off and introduce us to our main cast.
Some could also complain (and they wouldn't really be wrong) that the movie has a very slow build and thus, could be perceived as boring. I can totally see that, however I didn't personally find that it affected me in that way at all. To me, it uses that slow build masterfully in order to let us grow accustomed to these characters and build an underlying tension that you almost don't even realize is being built until you get to a point where it starts coming to the forefront more. Make no mistake, this movie is very much a sci-fi-set character study first, watching the effects that being trapped on a small ship out in space for years, so far away from home and only with the same few people around, has on a person, and then the movie is everything else second, so don't go into it expecting some non-stop flashy blood and gore horror flick because this could not be the further from that. In addition to watching how these characters interact and deal with the day to day life in such a situation, the growing and continuous sense of awe and discovery throughout the movie, especially once they finally land on Europa, also helped to pass the time for me, as it just gives you so much to feel excited for, almost as if you really were watching a real documentary on such a discovery.
Now I don't want to really spoil a whole lot here since, as I said at the top, this is the kind of movie that the less you know about it going in, the better, but there is one last topic I want to touch on ever so briefly. The one bit of info I tried looking for on this movie beforehand but couldn't find a solid answer to was: Are there any sort of alien creatures in this movie? Well, without spoiling too much, I'll just say that they do indeed find something. But don't expect that to be a driving force of the movie, because it really isn't; Technical problems with the ship, compounded by growing mental issues of some of the crew, mixed in with the usual dangers of long distance space travel and exploring a new planet for the first time take up the bulk of the things that this deep space crew end up facing during this mission. The one mysterious thing that is discovered on Europa seems more like an after-thought to please those touchy viewers that need something like that or 'this movie sucks' to them, however that's not to say that it's non-effective, because it very much is. The last little portion of the movie when it starts dealing with this thing, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just as enthralled as I was during any other part of the movie, if not even slightly more-so, but it plays such a minor role overall that it's almost not even worth mentioning.
Yes, the movie is a bit slow for the majority of its runtime, but slow doesn't automatically equal boring, as there were plenty of things happening that fully kept my interest. Add to that some good performances, a pretty realistic approach and attention to detail, a nice sense of awe and wonder, and some truly terrifying nail-biting tension at some parts, and we have another winning Found Footage flick right here. It's only slightly brought down by some aspects of the documentary approach that have a tendency to take you out of the moment at times when I would really have rather just stayed encompassed by the moment. Still, when that's the only real complaint I have with a movie, then it's a pretty safe bet to say it's one damn fine movie. For those who were hoping for Apollo 18 to be much more then it ended up being, Europa Report is excellent at filling that void, just as long as you are prepared for the slower pace and you aren’t expecting some gory edge-of-your-seat non-stop action/horror thrill ride.
9/10 rooms in the Psych Ward