Many films have tackled the question of whether we’re alone in the universe, but instead of having looming space ships hover over earth or astronauts coming into contact with terrifying beings from other planets, Europa Report presents the much more likely concept of signs of life on one of Jupiter’s moons. The Europa Report was a mission that brought together an elite group of international scientists, engineers, and a pilot who wanted to go further than anyone had before to explore that moon and see if there were signs of life developing on (or under) the surface.
When those in charge of the mission on the ground report that the exploratory crew went missing for nearly a year after all communication suddenly went dark, the mystery of what happened up there finds the spotlight. The narrative then switches perspective to the ship where those on board decide to continue with the mission, even as those on the ground presume they’re dead. What they discover is a captivating mix of believable and beautiful elements, but when one of the crew members (Karolina Wydra) comments on the inspiring, undisturbed world, it quickly becomes clear that they should have left it that way.
Director Sebastián Cordero creates a stark juxtaposition between the sterile confines of the space station and the wide, unexplored expanse of the universe outside it. The movie is filled with impressive visuals, especially for an independent film, that bring you into a world rooted in enough reality to make every moment seem possible. As a mirror, the cast does an affecting job depicting the slow wear of living for months in a small space despite having to contend with a choppy narrative structure that keeps the characters from ever being fully developed.
The film’s editing style jumps between the past, present, and future which certainly keeps the film moving along at a fast clip, but it ultimately ends up taking away from the performances. Plus, while it is an interesting idea to present the footage as long lost video, finally telling the other half of the story, showing the reactions of those on the ground before seeing the footage gave too much away and neutered the narrative’s overall impact.
For all the concern of whether we’re alone in space, this movie ultimately asks a broader, more basic question: what is worth losing in order to discover something new? Although those on the mission are primarily scientists, the moments of pure emotion that bubble up when they come across something new make it seem like the sacrifices to expand our world view are worth it, right up until the true nature of the discovery is revealed. Europa Report does a beautiful job of attempting an answer to that question, so it’s a shame that found footage obscures the view.
The Upside: Impressive visuals; fully realized worlds both inside and outside of the space station; captivating performances from cast
The Downside: Highly stylized editing structure gave too much away too soon and never allowed real emotion or tension to build; out of sequence structure kept potentially interesting performances too limited
On the Side: Europa Report is the first film Ecuadorian born Cordero directed in English.