I.S.S. is a Tense Film That Needs More Time | Review

Bleecker Street’s original Sci-Fi film, I.S.S., brings some interesting ideas and tension, but lacks a certain oomph. Learn more in our full review.

Directed By: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Written By: Nick Shafir
Starring: Ariana DeBose, Chris Messina, John Gallagher Jr, Maria Mashkova
Release Date: January 19, 2024

It’s always a good thing when we can start the New Year off with some original Science Fiction in theaters. In that regard, I.S.S. delivers with an interesting premise that offers up some intriguing ideas. It’s just…not as good as the potential it shows. Before I dive further, let me say that I, generally speaking, enjoyed the film. I don’t feel my time was wasted. It just lacked a certain something that would have made it more memorable.

The Basics

As the title implies, I.S.S. takes place entirely aboard the International Space Station. Continually crewed by both American astronauts and Russian Cosmonauts, the station has been a vital source of scientific research since it launched in the late 90s. The film begins as Dr. Kira Foster (Ariana DeBose) arrives for her first “tour of duty” aboard, as she studies a potential way to regrow vital organs for those in need.

After meeting up with the people she’ll be living/working with during her and settling in, something terrifying happens: war breaks out between the US and Russia. As bombs begin lighting up the planet, the six members aboard the space station are desperate for any news about what’s going on; while their trajectory shifts and they potentially face the reality of falling out of the sky.

Communications are spotty, but both teams finally make contact, only to receive orders from their governments to “take control” of the station by any means necessary. Suddenly the scientists who’ve worked together and rely on each other for survival, find themselves on opposite sides of a war. Without knowing who to trust, Kira must struggle to retain the peace, protect herself, and find a way home before it’s too late.

More Time to Cook

That’s pretty much the gist of the overall story. I don’t want to go much further as that risks diving into spoiler territory. Considering the crux of the film hinges on the ideas of who you can trust and who’s out for their own interests, there are plenty of twists awaiting. Some of them land really well too, and offer up some genuine “oh shit” moments.

Much of this is due to the actors doing a solid job all around and really selling you on where they stand. Unfortunately, that’s also where the film seems to struggle.

I.S.S. comes in at just around 90 minutes. As such, it’s a tight thriller that doesn’t waste much time. In some ways, this works out as it creates a strong sense of immediate tension (especially when the bombs start hitting). This did an excellent job of keeping me engaged and on the edge of my seat the majority of the time.

The issue, however, is it distinctly feels like it’s missing something. As tense as things get, nothing feels like it’s ever satisfactorily released. Because of the quick pace, there’s no time to really get a feel for the characters beyond their current dilemma. Thus, when things start happening, it feels like all the twists/big moments happen back-to-back. The result is none of them feel as impactful as you’d expect.

While the tension of the moment is great, the type of story they’re telling feels like it needed more time. It definitely feels like the kind of story that would benefit from a slower burn, building up these characters and their lives before all the shit hits the fan. Something along the lines of a mini-series or something. It feels counterintuitive to how the filmmakers clearly want the story to play out, but the idea presented is such an intriguing one…and it never feels fully explored.

Again, that’s not to say it’s bad. I enjoyed it while watching, but there wasn’t much lasting impact once the credits rolled. Instead my reaction was more along the lines of, “that’s it?” I wanted more, and more of the potential it showed. There’s greatness in there to be plucked, but it falls a little short of it.

A Tense Thriller With Big Potential
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Jordan Maison
Editor-in-Chief: Writer and cartoonist who went to college for post-production, he now applies his love of drawing, movie analysis, filmmaking, video games, and martial arts into writing.
iss-movie-reviewI.S.S. has plenty of good things going for it. The cast is solid, the story is an interesting one, and the tension crafted throughout is very on point. In it's rush, however, it manages to make all the important moments feel small and lack oomph. That said it's a solid original Sci-Fi flick that will keep you entertained for an hour and a half. You just might never feel compelled to watch it again.