PLOT: Years after the crew of Europa One, a privately owned spaceship sent to land on one of Jupiter's moons, never returned from their mission, the footage from the travels is uncovered, holding the answers to their mysterious fate.
EUROPA REPORT finally brings us an intriguing spin on the found footage genre, and is presumably the experience APOLLO 18 wanted to be. Part sci-fi exploration drama, part eerie "Twilight Zone", Sebastian Cordero's movie uses the format to actively engage us in a mystery; it's a part of the story as opposed to just a cheap gimmick. It also helps that there's barely any "shaky cam" action, as most of the cameras used here are stationary.
Cordero's film is a piecing-together of a mission to Jupiter's moon, Europa, that went awry and resulted in the disappearance of six astronauts. Intercut with interviews from the mission's masterminds years after the fact, the footage gives us a peek into key moments of the mission, which lasted well over a year. The purpose was of the simplest variety: to find if heat signatures discovered on Europa meant that life indeed exists there. Don't the most foolhardy and dangerous journeys begin with the noblest of intentions?
EUROPA REPORT's greatest achievement is the way it believably establishes just how monotonous and unexceptional a trip into the outer reaches of space might actually be. While it's never boring, the film takes its time to linger on the minute details of space travel; the near-constant clicking of buttons, the small windows that provide the view, the lousy meals. And how very cramped the ship is. A man could go crazy in such a situation, and another movie would predictably have one or more of the crew members lose their minds under the pressure, but thankfully Cordero eschews such melodrama in favor of more realistic challenges, like malfunctioning parts and human errors. I dare say that there will be a rather large section of moviegoers who won't be satisfied by EUROPA REPORT's deliberate pace and lack of action, so used are we to sci-fi mayhem in films of this sort.
Don't get me wrong though; EUROPA REPORT isn't just a faux-documentary on the drudgery of being an astronaut. The crew does indeed eventually reach their destination (albeit off target) and once there, they're confronted with half-seen lights that could indicate another lifeform's presence. Add to that an unstable surface that threatens to sink them and eventually, like most crews who reach out to touch the unknown, they find themselves suddenly frightened by the possibilities.
Cordero doesn't go for cheap thrills or easy horror beats; he lets suspense build gradually from the sense of impending discovery. You won't find too many monstersor shadowy figures popping into the frame unexpectedly, although Cordero expertly draws our attention to abstract shapes and lights at specific intervals. The film keeps us guessing until its final moments, which are both grim and oddly gratifying.
A surprisingly impressive technical crew has been assembled for this low-budget effort, including cinematographer Enrique Chediak (127 HOURS) and production designer Eugenio Caballero (PAN'S LABYRINTH). While the film maintains its minimalist feel throughout, the professionalism of the production is apparent thanks to these top-tier names, while a few vivid visual effects sequences are highlights (without ever overshadowing the continual human drama).
And the cast is very good too; not exceptional or featuring any one standout performance, but a solid ensemble of character actors. The most recognizable is probably Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9), here playing a likable science officer who is seemingly more concerned with talking to his family back home than the duties at hand. Michael Nyqvist (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) is the oldest and most expressive of the bunch, playing a serious man who attempts to keep his calm after another crew member dies. And Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca, who I've personally never seen before, is really terrific as the ship's pilot and voice of reason.