Space drama “I.S.S.” is a tense thriller never takes its foot off the gas pedal. [Tribeca Film Festival]

There is always something inherently interesting to see what someone’s first made screenplay actually ends up being, and for Nick Shafir, that ended up being I.S.S., directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Our Friend), and it certainly sets Nick up to be a talent to look out for in the future as this tense thriller never takes its foot off the gas pedal. There is so much subtext that is being said in I.S.S., too, that cannot go understated. Nick crafts the story of what is happening on a global scale that is almost as relevant as ever with the current political climate, and what humans can be pushed to do. The story truly knows no bounds and is told wonderfully by the brilliant cast and makes for one exceptional movie that is sure to captivate and terrify audiences for its run time.


L-R: Maria (Masha) Mashkova as Weronika, John Gallagher Jr as Christian, and Costa Ronin as Nicholai Pulvov in I.S.S.. Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival/LD Entertainment.

The film focuses on two different teams, Americans and Russians, of astronauts led respectfully by Gordon Barrett (Chris Messina) and Alexey Pulov (Pilou Asbaek), as they’re tasked with being on the International Space Station (I.S.S.) to solve some medical inquiries that seem to be focused on finding a cure for thyroid cancer. However, they’re not alone as they have teams consisting of Kira (Ariana DeBose) and Christian (John Gallagher Jr) for the Americans, and Weronika (Maria [Masha] Mashkova) and Nicholai Pulov (Costa Ronin) for the Russians. While they are on the I.S.S., doing their work, they notice something strange going on, on Earth. At first, they’re led to believe it is a massive volcanic eruption that ends up looking more like a massive nuclear strike. Shortly after, both Gordon and Alexey get orders from their respective governments to take over the space station at any means necessary. While trying to protect themselves, and their teams, things clearly get out of control and chaos fully erupts as the fight for survival in space is off and no one is safe. Friendships, romances, and literal humanity is at stake here, as world tensions flare.


A scene in I.S.S.. Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival/LD Entertainment.

While the movie truly is an ensemble piece and everyone involved is essential to making the movie the success that it is, Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) and John Gallagher Jr (10 Cloverfield Lane) are the true standouts who shine bright in this intense thriller. Ariana manages to convey such emotion and rawness to her performance within a tight confined space, bringing the anxiety-riddled stakes to the forefront and making the audience feel a false sense of reality. Her performance makes it feel as though if this were to be a real situation that could some day unfold, possibly the only people left living could be so hostile and so strict to follow rules that they could potentially be wiping out humanity, bringing a new level of terror to the forefront. While John Gallagher Jr plays against type in this role, showing off more of his range, he rounds out this cast with a very grounded performance that shows every side of human nature and a will to survive in a fight or flight mode.

However, in a movie that is confined entirely to space with a limited cast that rely heavily on each other and the atmosphere that is around them, space itself is almost a character in of itself, too. There are so many limitations imposed on the story and cast that they are confined mostly to this one setting and cannot escape it or the space around it. It is an atmosphere that has been explored in countless movies ranging from Alien (1979) to The Martian (2015) and Gravity (2013), all movies that take the idea of being in space, being confined to an area without being able to leave it (or planetary exploration), creating an unnatural natural sense of existential crisis that just breathes life into the deepest parts of the relatively unknown.


Ariana DeBose as Kira in I.S.S.. Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival/LD Entertainment.

What I.S.S. does well is it shows the fragility of humanity, while briefly touching upon the fact that as much as society may not like to believe it, we are a few hot headed people away from complete nuclear annihilation, and that space is truly the catalyst of all fear. Supported by wonderful direction by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and a masterful script by first-time feature screenwriter Nick Shafir, as well as some standout performances from Ariana DeBose and John Gallagher Jr, I.S.S. will simply leave you breathless.

Screening during Tribeca Film Festival.

For more information, head to the official Tribeca Film Festival I.S.S webpage.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.

Tribeca 2023

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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