Europa Report (2013)

Well, that WAS impressive. Again, a lack of forewarning, foreshadowing, fore…something or another, served me well. The first and really only things that I had heard, in advance, was that this low-budget ‘found footage’ story of a doomed mission to one of Jupiter’s moons (guess which one) was a curious sideproject for South African actor Sharlto Copely (District 9) to take on, in light of his currently ‘rising star’ in Hollywood. There was also a little scuttlebutt about a very limited theatrical release (not sure if that ever came to pass), and an expected ‘life’ as a Video On Demand ‘feature’. So, going into this…I was ‘in the dark’ …and curious.
Plot: The story focuses, through the use of a myriad of onboard camera footage (interior and exterior cam feeds), on the crew of the Europa One as they push forward to take Humanity that next step further into the universe. It seems that scientific data suggested that Europa may be suitable for an ‘underground’ ocean world beneath the glaciers that coat the moon’s inhospitable surface. Along the way, the expedition encounters a number of dire hurdles which begin to ‘wear’ on the group of men and women. It’s after they set down on the moons surface (off-target, naturally) that things take an undeniable turn for the worse.
‘Europa Report’ is one of those low-budget affairs that, I believe, could (and should’ve) played with The Big Boys. This may be a long shot, but I think that this could actually ‘stand’ next to something like ‘Gravity’ (2013), a science fiction thriller that also actually strove for something resembling scientific accuracy and believability…only with a gajillion dollars more to play with. This was clearly a case of wanting to tell a larger story, but being confined to a (comparatively speaking) meagre budget. This is where I believe the choice to make this a ‘found footage’ flick was a wise one, despite the now tiresome glut of them that we’ve seen over the last few years.
Much of the footage here plays out as very legitimate, which makes sense because the particular style instantly harks back to the grainy and imperfect images we’ve all seen of the Real-Life space ‘events’ like the Gemini and Apollo space missions, the Space Shuttle Program and the ISS (granted, their cameras are pretty damn good!). It just lends that needed tangibility that a story needs in order to help fuel the tension.
And tension there is! More than once, I found myself wound tight as I watched the deterioration of this ambitious space mission. Like many of the great suspense films, ‘less is more’ is The Name of The Game here. Admittedly, having spikes in radiation that cause strange camera anomalies IS handy for this aesthetic. A number of times, suspense is effectively heightened by mere glimpses of what was ailing these poor people.
Speaking of people, the cast of this inventive and determined little sci-fi gem were mostly unknowns, with the notable exceptions of Sharlto Copely, Michael Nyqvist (the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy) and Embeth Davidtz (Army of Darkness). Having a number of capable ‘unknowns’ helped this flick nicely, as they were good enough to bring SOME dimension to their somewhat thin characters.
If I had to complain, I would point out that, like that other ‘found footage’ flick ‘Chronicle’ (2012), sometimes the movie forgot that it WAS a ‘found footage’ story. Certain camera angles seemed too convenient…too staged…too…cinematic, for the established style. The same ‘bitch’ can also be leveled at the rousing and emotional piece of music ‘score’ that conveniently rose up at the climax. Simply didn’t belong, given the distinct lack of music earlier.
Some people may also yell ‘Cheap!’ or ‘Lazy!’ at the end of this one, but personally, I liked it. It was fitting for what the story (and expedition) had been after. Kind of creepy too, truth be told. Not too mention VERY final, which sometimes is just a good way to go with a story of this kind. To compare it to other ‘mankind in space’ films out there, the obvious examples (for me) are ‘2010’ (1984), ‘Sunshine’ (2007), and, as mentioned already, ‘Gravity’ (2013)…just with a slightly more fantastical and ‘alien’ problem that the beleaguered humans must contend with. I suppose another flick perfectly fit for comparison would be ‘Apollo 18’ (2011)…especially with the ‘found footage’ angle, and the fact that the ‘threatening strangeness’ also calls our Solar System home. Basically, ‘Europa Report’ is an ambitious entry into this specific genre of Science Fiction and it really is a cryin’ shame that it got fucked over on it’s release. A lackluster, piddly advertising campaign and an insultingly puny theatrical release (yep, I looked it up ; ) did the efforts of the crew and the expended budget NO favors, at all. This probably would’ve been great to see for the first time on a Big Screen. Perhaps the somewhat questionable ending (it’s a good one!!! believe me!!!) caused a lack of faith among the investors, who maybe decided to just dump it on the unknowing movie-going public with little to no fanfare or mention…and cut their financial losses. If so…cowards!! Have some faith!
‘Europa Report’ deserves to be seen by intelligent people who don’t need a billion $’s worth of pyrotechnics to keep their attention…as cool as a billion $’s of pyrotechnics is. People who appreciate the ‘effort’ (sometimes in place of the ‘cash’) that it took to actually pull this story off, and to have it be an impressively ‘polished’, well-acted and tension-laden thriller that securely holds your attention through the whole run-time. You know…people like YOU! (points at YOU). Check it out. It deserves the attention.

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