Synopsis: An international group of astronauts fly to Jupiter's moon of Europa to explore the possibilities of alien life. However, throughout their journey, morale is constantly affected as the group continuously loses members of their crew to various accidents... and the fact that something else may be with them upon arrival doesn't make it any better.
"Europa Report," directed by Sebastián Cordero, is a quiet little piece of Sci-Fi all about the exploration of extra-terrestrial life. While it's certainly not a huge studio production, it brings smart sensibilities in its premise, a fresh take on the found footage genre, and generates equal wonder, suspense, and distress amongst its crew. Granted, it's not perfectly done, failing in its attempt to be the next "2001: A Space Odyssey." While it doesn't quite reach that level of cinematic greatness, feeling more like a slightly lesser "Sunshine," the film is still commendable in its plausibility; a genuine mix of science and believability is something that has been sorely lacking in some science fiction films lately.
Told in non-linear fashion, the narrative is laid out like a documentary involving footage from the mission. Initially, it is somewhat disorienting, as the time frame in which it jumps around feels somewhat awkward; it makes it somewhat difficult to stay focused. However, it eventually finds its groove, creating a good sense of rhythm and pacing, despite being a slow-burn picture. Even if it practically spells out the fate of the crew, you eventually forget about when the moment comes, and the tension is brought back again. For some of these characters, it's that lingering feeling of knowing what will happen that ratchets up the tension. After the slow first third, it becomes eventful, as the crew experiences various forms of danger. While it gets somewhat repetitive for a couple of the characters near the end (as well as anti-climactic for one, as it happens so quickly), it happens at such an intense moment that its negative effects are minimal.
Right off the bat, it's emphasized that this is an international crew, which stresses a strong sense of camaraderie, unity, and interdependence. As each character is from a different country with different skill sets, the film uses this to its advantage in bringing about one of its strongest themes: working together brings about a greater good. While the characters aren't always fleshed out as well as they could be (Sharlto Copley as a marine biologist is the stand out, despite having the least amount of screen time) or not always having the strongest acting, they all come across as professional, able people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for their colleagues and a greater cosmic goal. Still, it might bother some people that we couldn't have a better understanding of some of these characters' histories to make us become more attached to some of them more emotionally. It doesn't help that one of the characters, while well-intentioned (as well as being the subject of a poignant line about the smallness of man to the greatness of space), is rather foolish in ignoring prominent danger when her goals are completed. Thankfully though, this isn't a common occurrence, as the crew is a generally intelligent bunch.
This is made stronger by the occasionally cramped cinematography, which generally comes across as security footage (which is due to the fact that it was predominantly record with web-cams built into the sets), as well as cameras from the astronauts suits, and one handheld camera which is used sparingly (and is the subject of a very good twist in the end of the film). This makes everything feel natural, which is hard to come by in a good deal of found footage films, as the main issue usually revolves around a character holding a camera when said person should just drop it and run. Very few times does it take a look at space, but when it does, it feels glorious, due to the fact that it gives you that brief moment to acknowledge something so huge in scale amidst being stuck in such a tiny metal room for the majority of the trip. It also treats a mysterious entity floating around as it should be... a mystery. It makes sure to keep it hidden, similar to "Cloverfield" or "Jaws," making you fear it much more so.
Despite some issues in pacing, scarce moments in character intelligence, and a couple moments of average acting, this is a very strong piece of Sci-Fi. It merges plausibility with some fantastic elements, generating good tension and despair throughout, and contemplating on some important themes in regards to humanity. This is also probably the smartest use of found footage in some time, finding a way to generate some fresh life into it. While not the biggest Sci-Fi success as of late, it will certainly leave an impact and some questions lingering in your mind.