Found footage has a secure home in horror movies, and with Europa Report the science fiction genre gets its best found footage film to date. From director Sebastián Cordero, his first English-language film Europa Report tells the story of a privately funded space mission to one of Jupiter’s Moons. The hope of the crew, and the company behind them, is to find signs of life–albeit at the molecular level in the ice or water; or nothing at all. Europa Report takes place far in the future, where technology makes it possible to send astronauts into space for years at a time without the use of the sleeping pods the genre is so fond of, a la Alien.
There will not be an opportunity to formally meet the astronauts in Europa Report, even if the film is set-up like a documentary, because all of the footage shown and compiled is from the on-board cameras of the ship and interviews with the people involved in the mission on Earth–the investors, so to speak. There is one crew member’s journal interviews that are played, whether or not they take place during or after the mission is a mystery held until the final moments of the movie. To this effect, the camera angles are consistently canted, the scenes claustrophobic as they mimic the small spaces of the spaceship through a full-frame atmosphere, and what is seen or heard not always clear to the viewer as the camera can only “catch” what it is aimed towards, or near enough to. This is part of the fun while watching Europa Report, you have to use your imagination just as the crew does to envision what lurks under the ice of Jupiter’s Moon, if anything. A porthole view does not give much detail, nor does a camera attached to an astronaut’s spacesuit. Until, it does.
Director Cordero compiles the footage in a sequential narrative fashion. There is the waiting period, as the ship makes its way towards Jupiter. The inevitable moments of boredom the crew experiences, the missing of their family at home, and other tried and true story beats in a science fiction space movie. The mission is not without its problems technically, and the astronauts have their boats with malfunctions and hiccups. They are not by any means experienced in long distance space travel, but no one is at this point. While Cordero keeps things structured he also manages to evoke mystery, occasionally jumping around events in order to heighten the suspense and curiosity of the viewer. A crew member dies, but the story of how this happened, and why another is ultimately disintegrating mentally are not alerted to immediately. Its a bold choice by Cordero, and a necessary one in order to keep interest from the viewer before the inevitable landing on Jupiter’s Moon. What comes then is pure science fiction euphoria, as the exploration takes dramatic turns that are improbably exciting–the possible discovery of life–and equally terrifying as the unknown elements of the Moon become the greatest foe to this crew.
Europa Report does take its astronauts to Jupiter’s Moon, and there is plenty of footage once they arrive to make for an exciting third act of the movie. Its not so much what happens on board the ship, but what happens outside and the fact that the outer icy area is not accessible easily to a crew member; nor is the water below. One goes out, something drastic occurs, and the others are left with only the screams, the brief images from a suit’s camera, or the light that flashes in the ship’s window. Its all very mysterious, very questionable, and altogether thrilling to watch for the science fiction fanatic who dreams of space exploration as a reality, and the possible thrills and horrors of finding life on another planet. Europa Report does not have an inevitable ending, because the entire movie is based on events that have already ended. It only exists as a time capsule for viewers to discover, and to imagine the possibilities of what we don’t know beyond our own World. What you will find is exhilarating, horrifying, and everything a science fiction space exploration film should be.
(USA, 2013, 90 mins)
Directed By: Sebastián Cordero
Executive Producer: Jeremy Kipp Walker
Producer: Ben Browning
Screenwriter: Philip Gelatt
Cinematographer: Enrique Chediak
Editors: Aaron Yanes, Alexander Kopit, Craig Mckay, Livio Sanchez
Cast: Daniel Wu, Sharlto Copley, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist, Anamaria Marinca, Embeth Davidtz, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Dan Fogler
Music: Bear McCreary