I.S.S. (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite)

By: Adam Freed

254 miles above Earth’s surface The International Space Station (I.S.S.) hangs high as a long standing beacon of post Cold War relations between the United States and Russia.  The co-owned space based research laboratory orbits the planet at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour, circumnavigating the globe every 90 minutes.  The tight confines of the highly advanced scientific research facility makes for an outstanding setting for a close proximity thriller as the astronauts and cosmonauts on board have no choice but to live and collaborate in harmony.  Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite captains her film I.S.S. to a truly impressive first act that sets the scene for what in more delicate hands, could have been a space thriller to remember.  Instead, audiences will be forced to walk away from I.S.S. pondering what might have been.  

While gliding around Earth in a silent and peaceful orbit, the scientists aboard the International Space Station witness a series of mass explosions spanning what appears to be the bulk of the continental United States.  This helpless shock from afar is coupled with dueling top secret messages, one from each representative government.  Not since its 1998 launch has the space station become a more vital asset in claiming a foothold in the newly reignited American / Russian hostilities.  Unfortunately I.S.S. the film suffocates this stellar premise, as it chooses to reveal far too much of a story that would’ve better served suspending the audience in a state of anticipatory uncertainty.  The pivotal decision that Cowperthwaite makes to betray the tension of the script involves making audiences privy to conversations being had on both sides of the hostilities within the space station.  A valuable lesson could’ve been taken from the great Alfred Hitchcock, who in the first two acts of his suspense masterpieces only served as much information as was needed to raise the stakes, rather than to provide all of the answers.   

Cowperthwaite finds success in conducting a miniscule cast lead by Academy Award Winner Ariana DuBose (West Side Story). The camera loves DuBose and she certainly presents herself with a confidence and charisma that extends beyond the confines of a mediocre story.  In addition to DuBose’s strong performance, Chris Messina (Argo) adds value to the dramatic tension between the tightly housed American and Russian astronauts.  If one is able to defy the gravity of disbelief, then I.S.S. may provide just enough tension to make it feel worthwhile.  For everyone else, the second half of this space thriller is better left jettisoned into the infinite eternity of the universe.   

Target Score: 4.5/10  I.S.S. fumbles what is a truly remarkable premise and reduces an exciting opening 25 minutes into a somewhat predictable and messy resolution.  Ariana DuBose and Chris Messina are in command of their performances, but cannot save a script that ignores the necessity of mystery in a close quarters thriller of this nature.