Want to feel seriously unsettled about the state of the world? Look no further than the indie thriller “I.S.S.” My friends, this tense flick will have you white-knuckling that movie seat from start to finish. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (yep, the same lady behind hard-hitting doc “Blackfish”), “I.S.S.” takes place entirely aboard its namesake, the International Space Station. There’s no CGI splash here, just a tight script from Nick Shafir and a crazy talented cast crammed into close quarters.
The premise grabs you from the opening scenes: Three American astronauts and three Russian cosmonauts are just doing their science thing together in space, getting along like one big happy zero-gravity family. But when nuclear war unexpectedly breaks out back on Earth, patriotic orders from above turn the station into a pressure cooker ready to blow.
Allegiances blur, relationships fray, and suddenly no one knows who to trust. It’s an explosive cocktail. Will these brilliant minds triumph over tribal suspicion? Or will violence in the vacuum of space become inevitable? Man, just writing this has my nerves jangling like a can of pens in the dishwasher. But I gotta know how it shakes out. Sound good to you? Then let’s float on into this nerve-shredding thriller…
Buckle Up, It’s Gonna Get Bumpy
Strap in tight my friends, because the plot of “I.S.S.” is one hell of a rollercoaster ride. It all starts when American biologist Dr. Kira Foster floats aboard the I.S.S. as its newest member. She settles in nicely with the rest of the crew—three other Americans and three Russians who all science harmoniously together in space.
But that peace is shattered after Kira spots some freaky flashes of light on Earth’s surface. At first she thinks they’re just volcanoes erupting. But uh uh. Those bright pops are actually cities getting nuked, y’all. I’m talking full-scale nuclear war.
Before you can say “Houston, we have a problem,” the American commander Gordon and his Russian counterpart Nicolai get top secret messages from their governments back home. NOW this orbital lab is ground zero for Cold War Part Two, and their orders are chilling—take control of the station by any means necessary!
So now no one knows who to trust. The whole I.S.S. family devolves into backstabbing sabotage, ready to tear each other apart. Will besties turn on each other? Will lovers become enemies? Does violence stand a chance even in the weightless vacuum of space? My heart is racing just thinking about it!
But through all the space station chaos, we stay fixed on Kira’s journey. How will this brilliant biologist handle the psychological free-fall? Can she hold on to her humanity 230 miles above the Earth’s surface?
A Cosmic Perspective
Get ready to have your mind expanded beyond the stratosphere. “I.S.S.” blasts off some vital themes that’ll have you questioning life, the universe, and everything.
See, when the nukes start flying back on Earth, the space station crew still has a peaceful, borderless view of that big blue marble. And throughout the film, we keep hearing how this cosmic perspective changes astronauts. There’s even a name for it—the “overview effect.”
Basically, when people see how small and fragile the Earth looks from space, it creates this super intense spiritual experience. All those national borders we fight over vanish, and you feel a deeper connection to all humanity. It’s a vibe the I.S.S. family knows well. As cosmonaut Weronika explains early on, gazing at Earth is akin to a religious experience…it “recontextualizes life.” How awesome is that?!
But all of a sudden, war divides the crew along old Cold War lines. It’s total chaos! So what happened to that lovely overview effect? Well friends, the film suggests any man-made conflict will look petty and ridiculous from such spiritual heights. Up here in orbit, tribal divisions disappear. But back on Earth, nationalism and the nuclear threat still loom large and dangerous.
The movie constantly blurs expected loyalties too. Russians, Americans—no one fits neat stereotypes or turns outright villainous. Underneath the flags and mission patches, these folks are more alike than different. Ultimately, “I.S.S.” wonders if our shared humanity can triumph over poisonous propaganda. Because in cramped quarters hundreds of miles above Earth, cooperation is the only way forward. Compassion conquers tribalism. If that’s not an inspirational message, I don’t know what is!
So watch this little sci-fi gem with open eyes, my friends. Let it rocket your mind beyond old thinking. Absorb that cosmic perspective. And maybe, just maybe, we earthlings can stop worrying and learn to love the bomb a little less.
Through the Eyes of the Astronauts
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite really knows how to put you in the space boots, y’all. “I.S.S.” is claustrophobic tension personified, shot with a floating camera that’s as graceful as a Seahawks receiver catching a touchdown pass while weightless.
Inside the space station it somehow feels both cramped AND lonely. Cowperthwaite often frames characters dead centre so they look stranded in a big metal soup can. That’s gotta be stressful even BEFORE war breaks out back home, right?
But the visual storytelling gets more dynamic too. Occasional security camera footage makes the place feel like Big Brother’s watching. And pulling off realistic zero-gravity in this flick is just as impressive as Sandra Bullock in “Gravity.” Watching the cast bop around like Beyoncé in one of her wind machine music videos creates a fun vertigo vibe. Messina in particular nails that space fishbowl swimming technique.
When we do glimpse snippets of Earth or the cold voids of space, the movie reaches peak loneliness. Tiny figures dwarfed by exploding warheads. Eerie silence punctuated by distant booms. It’s both hauntingly beautiful and straight up panic attack juice. And sonically speaking, let’s just say the creepy sound editing ramps up the emotions too. Would NOT listen to “I.S.S.” with headphones at night, no ma’am!
So visually, this flick may feel small in scope, sticking to tight shots aboard a single space station. But Cowperthwaite uses that intimacy to conjure epic cosmic dread. And for my money, it works like gangbusters.
A Stellar Space Squad
You can’t fake zero gravity, and you can’t fake a perfect performance ensemble. Luckily the cast of “I.S.S.” floats effortlessly on both counts!
Leading the celestial charge is Ariana DeBose as Dr. Kira Foster. After her Oscar-winning turn in Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” it’s rad seeing her shine in a totally different movie galaxy. DeBose is instantly likable, nailing both brainiac science moments and emotionally rich reactions. When war divides the I.S.S. it’s her eyes we rely on –- endlessly expressive pools of empathy. Can she marshal that goodwill when things get rough? Sign me up on Team Kira!
DeBose also gets to orbit some fellow All-Stars. As hotshot Commander Gordon, Chris Messina is all impotent patriotic frustration, like Captain America watching the Chitauri army invade New York. You feel his torment at every turn. I believed his romance with Masha Mashkova’s enigmatic Weronika too. When warring countries divided Romeo and Juliet the medieval teenagers just offed themselves. But can this space-love survive planet-scale apocalypse?
Among the Russians, “Game of Thrones” legend Pilou Asbæk also intrigues as the brooding Alexey. What secrets hide behind those devilish eyes? And Costa Ronin feels like a coiled panther as take-charge Nicholai, ready to pounce on his former space compadres.
By flick’s end, all involved get moments to shine against the starry infinity outside. Some even subvert expectations with clever twists. So watch in awe as actors and gravity itself swap places — with A-listers down to Earth and plot/themes going supernova. Enjoy the ride, baby!
Thrills, Chills…and Spills
Screenwriter Nick Shafir knows how to craft a ticking time bomb of a script. The first two acts of “I.S.S.” are straight fire, deftly mixing political intrigue with interpersonal drama. Just when you think you’ve got a read on these folks, another twist clicks into place.
By confining the story to a single crowded space station, Shafir squeezes epic stakes into a pressure cooker ready to blow. And he knows how to carefully calibrate the heat too. After initial world-building we get juicy dollops of character backstory and mounting ideological friction. Then KABLAMMO…cue the nukes!
Once national loyalties divide and conquer this surrogate space family, theThreads of mistrust unravel quickly. The drama pops off like Jiffy Pop on a hot stove. And Shafir peppers in some downright Hitchockian suspense beats as the various astronauts turn on each other. Who’s scheming behind whose back? WHO CAN BE TRUSTED? ARE THOSE DANGEROUS MICE LOOSE?? So many sucker punch shocks, I tell ya.
But that breakneck pace works against the climax, which descends into familiar zero G fisticuffs. And as events spiral wildly, it does strain plausibility a bit. Would Commander Gordon REALLY risk his life on a dodgy exterior repair job when nuclear judgement day looms? I don’t care if Houston is barking orders, bro needs to get his priorities straight!
So while “I.S.S.” orbits at exhilarating speed for most of its runtime, expect some turbulence upon re-entry. The script writes checks the concept can’t totally cash. But luckily sharp performances and directing keep our attention until touchdown. This rocket doesn’t quite stick the landing, but oh baby does it soar for two acts!
Standing on the Shoulders of Space Giants
Like the coolest freshman kicking it with upperclassmen legends, “I.S.S.” chillaxes in some pretty stellar sci-fi company.
With its compact setting and high concept premise, this indie rocket definitely recalls classic “Twilight Zone” episodes. All that’s missing is Rod Serling and his sublime cigarette narration putting humanity on blast. But thematically, “I.S.S.” likewise explores how ethics unravel when civilization goes kaput. We’ve got front row seats to the humans losing their damn minds!
Tonally, Cowperthwaite is also chasing the intrigue of Cold War nail-biters like “Fail Safe.” Mankind’s doom hangs on seemingly benign conversations turned suddenly sinister when no one knows who’s telling the truth. The loyalty mind games and escalating paranoia will have you sweating like Nixon!
That said, ” Gravity” still remains the gold standard for claustrophobic space drama. “I.S.S.” doesn’t quite match Alfonso Cuaron’s agonizing sustained tension as Sandy B fights to survive the debris alone. Cowperthwaite lets the pressure valve release a bit too often. But that ensemble focus pays homage to Ray Bradbury’s poetic astronaut stories dealing with mankind’s oblivious arrogance. We ignore our cosmic insignificance at our own peril.
So sip a Tang cocktail and let “I.S.S” take you on an orbit of space classics seen through a modern lens. The special effects budget is smaller, but it stands tall on some intrepid shoulders. Where will it take the sci-fi genre next? Onwards and upwards, baby!!
An Imperfect Journey Through Infinite Possibility
When the credits glide upward in “I.S.S.,” you’ll likely be left both exhilarated and somewhat let down. It’s an odd feeling for sure. But that’s what happens when a wildly creative concept gets only partially awesome execution.
This little indie packs a massive high concept punch for most of its slim running time. Credits to Cowperthwaite’s confident directing and a super magnetic lead turn from Ariana DeBose. Together they nail the rising action as nuclear angst boils over in tight I.S.S. quarters. But just when events should peak into full madness, the story spins its gears a bit shamelessly gunning for an action climax.
Still, even with that messy denouement, “I.S.S.” offers thoughtfully thrilling freshness. It tackles resonant ideas about conflict and connection with an artful astronaut twist. You’ve likely never seen wartime paranoia and yearning for common ground depicted quite like this before.
So I say nice try to this ambitious orbiter. It doesn’t QUITE escape Earth’s atmosphere for full sci-fi transcendence. The ground keeps gravity’s grip a little too tight. But man are the launch sequences something special. I applaud the effort and originality. Pop this in the Netflix queue and fire your imagination rockets!
Despite some turbulence, "I.S.S." is a thrilling indie rocket that mostly lives up to the promise of its ambitious premise. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and screenwriter Nick Shafir craft an urgent pressure cooker in space, with stunning lead work from Ariana DeBose anchoring the human story amidst escalating nuclear tensions. For two white-knuckle acts this thought-provoking thriller glides effortlessly through suspense and speculation about conflict and connection—no small feat given the confined setting. Unfortunately the laws of physics take over for a messier, less believable climax, when the script strains for space fisticuffs. Still, with resonant themes and a killer ensemble, I.S.S delivers intrigue and originality you won't find anywhere else in the cinematic stratosphere.
- Tense, claustrophobic direction from Gabriela Cowperthwaite
- Ariana DeBose gives a magnetic lead performance
- Creative confined location ramps up suspense
- Nick Shafir's script deftly balances intrigue and action
- Thought-provoking themes about conflict and humanity
- Strong supporting turns from ensemble cast
- Final act descends into familiar action tropes
- Plot becomes convoluted and chaotic
- Premise stretches believability towards the end
- Doesn't fully deliver on potential of high concept