FEARNET Movie Review: 'Europa Report'



europa reportThe brand-new sci-fi thriller Europa Report is about a half-dozen astronauts who are on their way to the moon of Jupiter, but something tragic happens and...
Wait, wait. Come back. Yes, I know this plot sounds almost painfully familiar. We've all seen "outer space expedition" movies, be they the earnest cinematic space missions of the 1950s or modern movies as disparate as Mission to Mars, Moon, Event Horizon or the highly underrated Steven Soderbergh rendition of Solaris from a few years back. On its simplest level, Europa Report is reminscent of many other sci-fi films. Once you get past that, however, you're in for one of the most sincere, suspenseful, and fascinating science fiction movies of the past few years.

Again, the plot is simple stuff: a six-person crew is in the midst of a multi-year mission to visit Jupiter's moon, and just as things are starting to get easy, all hell breaks loose and one of the engineers is... let's say lost. With little choice but to continue their search for life under the ice of Europa, the five remaining crew members manage to reach their destination -- and that's when things get really dangerous. 

But herein lies the important stuff: put aside that the plot is pretty familiar stuff, Europa Report still stands out as science fiction in its purest and most fascinating form: it pulls several ideas from the latest in science fact and then uses those facts as the starting point for some wonderfully realistic fiction. To start with: all of the characters are well-crafted, strongly realized, and (before you know it) entirely three-dimensional people. It's amazing how much that helps once the "perils" show up. If you want to break Europa Report down by genre, I'd say it's pure sci-fi mixed with a sly disaster movie that maintains a firm sense of creepy awe and calm horror once Act III gets rolling. 
Also more than a little noteworthy is how director Sebastian Cordero has elevated the "found footage" game. Yes, Europa Report is presented in a faux-documentary fashion, which means you're getting the story from A) a few interview segments not unlike what you'd see on a Science Channel special, and B) a lot of "raw" footage that was shot by the spacecraft's large array of digital cameras. And since I know these reviews are being read by hardcore horror fans, let's make one thing clear: Europa Report is nothing like Apollo 18. It's more like the "best case scenario" of what Apollo 18 could have been. 
Taken a step further, Cordero and his visual team deserve huge credit for pushing "faux doco" storytelling a little further. If all you know of this filmmaking technique is that it's generally herky-jerky and ugly and potentially nauseating, be prepared to change your perception of "found footage." Put simply: Europa Report is gorgeous to look at. The basic character scenes are crisp and clean and yes, a tad Kubrick-ish, but once Cordero points his cameras towards outer space or (even better) around the destination moon, the movie is quite simply beautiful.

Backed by an excellent ensemble (genre fans will recognize folks like Dan Fogler, Embeth Davidtz, and Sharlto Copley, but really there's not a weak link in the entire chain), a very fine score by Bear McCreary that feels a bit intrusive at the outset but gradually becomes essential, and a true sense of "wonder" that is often lacking in even the coolest in sci-fi, Europa Report is an excellent little piece of speculative space cinema, one that knows full well how fascinating outer space is, and how heroic its explorers truly are.