ISS review – Ariana DeBose is ace as third world war sparks space station survival race | Film


At first, the crew on board the International Space Station (ISS) mistake the tiny dot of fire on Earth for a volcano. But look: there’s another, and another. In fact, these astronauts have got a bird’s eye view of a nuclear tit-for-tat between the Russian and American governments that by the end of the movie turns the planet into a great glowing ball of fire. But for the six-person crew – three Americans and three Russians – nuclear Armageddon is only the start of their problems.

A lowish-budget, slightly muted survival thriller – moderately tense, with too few ideas to qualify as actively cerebral – what the movie does have is a brilliant performance by West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose as biologist and rookie astronaut Kira. Like all the characters here, she’s a bit too thinly sketched, but DeBose brings real warmth and likability to the part, making Kira easy to root for. And there are some interesting moments as she adjusts to zero gravity.

The film’s director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, made her name with the killer whale documentary Blackfish, and brings her documentary-maker’s curiosity to the mechanics of living in space. Sleep is the trickiest thing to acclimatise to, Kira quickly learns; one of the Russians, Nika (Masha Mashkova), shows her how to strap in to a harness at night. (Warning: some scenes are not suitable for claustrophobics.)

There’s a “no politics” rule on board the ISS – and the vibe is chummy and collegiate. But within minutes of the third world war breaking out, both the American and Russian crews get orders to seize control of the station “by any means necessary”. (Naturally, the villainous Russkies stick the knife in first.) And here’s where it gets implausible. Earth is burning below, but mostly these astronauts act as if there is something to play for: a government to report to, or a life to return to. No one seems to have an existential freakout about what awaits them if they survive: starvation, thirst, anarchy and a slow death.

Of course, the carnage on board is meant to be a microcosm of the mutual destruction below. One killing leads to another; it just doesn’t make much sense. Still, ISS does deliver one knock-out terrific death in space: a screwdriver to the neck, perfect little bubbles of blood floating prettily away in zero gravity.

ISS is in UK cinemas now.

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