I.S.S. is a film with a half-decent concept. A tense thriller set in the claustrophobic confines of a tiny space station automatically makes for some great tension — look no further than the sci-fi horror Alien. I.S.S. shrinks that setting down further to the few chambers of the International Space Station, an endeavor that the opening titles describe as a symbol of post-Cold War collaboration and peace between Russia and America. As the film opens, things go wrong on Earth and the crew of three American scientists and three Russian scientists are both secretly told to take over the ISS, by any means necessary.
The first thirty minutes or so of this film were decently strong. Ariana DeBose stars as a biologist and newest crew member of the ISS and serves as the audience avatar as we are introduced to the dynamics of the ISS and spend some time getting to know the characters. None of the dynamics introduced are particularly complex and the character building on the whole is fairly simple. The script also has a cringy line or two that feels like college student work, with heavy-handed metaphors about mice biting each other serving as an obvious set-up for coming events. Still, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite seems to know how to build up a story well enough, especially as the ominous view of Earth below develops with nuclear weapons exploding, creating a scene not dissimilar to the final shots of Oppenheimer.
But when the thriller aspect well and truly begins, the film’s slow and steady collapse begins too. The storyline feels put together on the fly, and characters begin doing totally illogical things that doom any otherwise decent efforts on display. While the film tries to continue to build out its characters, it all feels far too simplistic, especially in the face of increasingly moronic goings-on.
I.S.S. is a notably poorly-edited film. By the midway point, many scenes seem to lose their temporal continuity and don’t quite reflect the dialogue and pacing from the prior scene. This is exemplified in two different twists the film attempts that feel out of thin air, especially because both twists make little sense and like they exist only for cheap drama. An antagonist moment near the end simply doesn’t work because the final confrontation scene very much feels like it was shot and written for a different edit, one that built more toward this moment.
This film isn’t a total failure. The cast is fine, and Cowperthwaite’s handling of dark, tight corridors and zero-gravity action is decent. There are no notably cheap-looking CGI shots, except in the ending, which again, feels like the product of a reshoot or re-edit. Little mistakes and issues throughout slowly disorient and disconnect the viewer. A message about international cooperation in the face of our tumultuous world events should have had a better vehicle.