Europa Report

Year: 2013
Production Co: Wayfare Entertainment
Director: Sebastián Cordero
Writer: Philip Gelatt
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Annamaria Marinca, Embeth Davidtz, Dan Folger

The first thing you might think when you hear about the premise behind Europa Report is that the MPAA, OFLC and BBFC might need a new rating – ABFFF (Another Bloody Found Footage Film).

The next thing you might think after the likes of The Devil Inside, the end result of the Paranormal Activity series and Apollo 18 (which is better than you've heard) is; why?

Even with the awesome entries into the genre like Trollhunter, V/H/S, The Tunnel and [Rec] , hasn't found footage run its course? Even when you learn it's set aboard a space mission like Apollo 18, you might steer clear.

Wait. Europa Report might be more than just the movie that goes down among the best of found footage thrillers (it's not strictly a horror film), it's likely to be the most realistic depiction of the system mechanics and emotional journey of space travel you've seen since Danny Boyle's Sunshine.

It's the very near future and the international crew of the Europa One is headed for Jupiter's largest moon (of the same name) to search for life after scientific readings indicate there might be a liquid ocean underneath the ice.

Composed entirely of video feeds from inside and outside the craft and her lander and the helmet cams of the crew, it tells the story of the approach, arrival and findings more incredible – and menacing – than anyone could have imagined.

The narrative is shuffled like a deck of cards, talking heads from back home including mission commander Dr Unger (Embeth Davidtz) and mission tech Sokolov (yes, that is Dan Fogler from Balls of Fury) referring to problems and even a tragedy that you're yet to see, but which cast a mood of dread over the mission.

Static shots of the axial arm of the craft that gives the living and working areas artificial gravity and the lander edging down towards the icy caverns on Europa's surface (plus the almost complete lack of a musical score) add to both the realism and sense of approaching doom.

When the big reveal happens – in the final few frames – it's not an anticlimax by any means, but you realise Europa Report has been all about the journey and not the Macguffin as the increasingly scared crew put the clues together.

To get there, they go through perils from waves of interstellar radiation to the perilously thin ice sheets on Europa's surface. The loss of one crewmember – talked about early on in the movie – is perhaps the most horrific death you'll see on a movie screen, and all without a drop of blood or even a raised voice.

The production consulted with NASA, and it shows. This is a world we'll likely be living in some time in the next decade or so, not one of ray guns and monsters in a galaxy far, far away. The structure gives you just enough to keep you enthralled, and the naturalistic approach does the rest.

The newcomers who join familiar faces Sharlto Copley and Michael Nyqvist are all great, and even though the scenes on the surface of the forbiddingly icy moon all look like they were actually shot out in space, Europa Report again proves that the most effective special effect is when the human face conveys the emotion of constantly changing inner thoughts.

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