Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Written by Nick Shafir
Starring: Ariana Debose (Dr. Kira Foster); Chris Messina (Gordon Barrett); Joh Gallagher Jr. (Christian Campbell); Maria Mashkova (Weronica Vetrov); Costa Ronin (Nicholai Pulov); Pilou Asbaek (Alexy Pulov)
The Space Race began as an existential competition between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. but evolved into a means of cooperation between both countries. The Apollo-Soyuz Mission in 1975 symbolized détente, as a mutual respect developed between the competing Space Programs. Space serving as a means to take the edge of the Cold War would also be reflected in films like Marooned and 2010: The Year We Made Contact.
I.S.S. flips the premise in an ominous story reflecting the current international situation of the 2020s. The story begins with Dr. Kira Foster joining the Russian and American crews on the International Space Station. As the newest crew member, she's introduced to the cramped quarters and strenuous living conditions by the American commander played by Chris Messina, who informs her learning how to sleep in zero gravity "sucks."
In time Kira adjusts to the social dynamics between the crew which are comradery with occasional tensions, such as when a joke is taken the wrong way by the Russians. They also decide to never discuss politics to avoid arguments, especially regarding the War in Ukraine. Then without warning, they begin to witness a catastrophe playing out on the surface of the Earth that leads to the central conflict of the film.
I.S.S. is a warning of how conflicts can imperil personal relationships, leading people to abandon their humanity (or maybe find their humanity). Although the grim premise of the film detracts from the narrative going on at the space station, it does speak to the fraught state of world politics.
The cast and direction were both excellent, achieving an intimate realism that achieves the illusion of being aboard the space station. There are suspenseful sequences that recall Gravity, and even some resonant symbolic moments. A somber Sci-Fi movie to open the year, it certainly the reflects the mood going into 2024.