Europa Report is a 2013 found-footage sci-fi flick from Sebastián Cordero pitting man against the great, final frontier of space oceans. Turns out, getting to space oceans is a real chore. It’s expensive, takes a long time and the space oceans are icy, irradiated hell baths millions of miles away from the nearest daiquiri bar AKA not an ideal vacation. But there may be life there so scientists are all jimmie-rustled about risking their lives to confirm the existence of some hunks of cells. Because you know what site you’re on, horror ensues. To reflect on the particular flavor of scary, head on down to our spoiler-filled review, below the trailer. As always, if you prefer your reviews to happen in a more ear-friendly format, take the podcast link and listen in.
Reviewed by: Jake
Jupiter has this moon called Europa, and it’s real icy. Science tells us there are liquid oceans over there, so you know we’re gonna launch some astronauts at it because that’s way cooler than exploring our own oceans which we also know next to nothing about but have successfully exploited into irrecoverable cesspools.
Naturally, such a voyage is privately funded and takes on a degree of reality TV as the world watches the Europa One mission’s every boring move during its years-long journey to its final destination. Eventually, a solar storm knocks out the ship’s communications and the six astronauts are cut off from their link back to Earth. No one knows what becomes of the mission.
As it presses on, some repair efforts go awry and engineer James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley) gets his suit coated in hydrazine while chief engineer Andrei Blok (Michael Nyqvist) has his suit ripped. In case you were wondering, that’s not a good situation. Corrigan gets Blok back to the airlock but he can’t enter because of the risk of hydrazine contaminating the ship. He pushes an unconscious Blok inside but the force carries him out to space, untethered. He floats into the eternal abyss. Oops.
The remainder of the crew continues their journey after the accident, still unable to restore communications. Eventually they arrive at Europa and land on the moon to conduct their tests. They miss their landing zone and though they drill a probe into the ice to take samples and view the oceans, it is damaged after some interference is detected and they lose communication. Marine biologist Katya Petrovna (Karolina Wydra) decides to hoof it over to their target zone to manually gather the needed samples but she also encounters a bioluminescent light source shortly before breaking through the ice and plunging into the alien ocean.
The remaining four members attempt to return for Earth after their sample results confirm the existence of simple life forms in the ice, but their engines malfunction and Captain William Xu (Daniel Wu) is killed during a crash landing back on Europa. Blok and science officer Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo) both exit the ship to try to conduct some repairs but Luxembourg also breaks through the ice. Knowing the mission is lost, Blok is able to conduct a repair restoring communications to Earth before himself falling into the ocean, and the lone remaining crew member, pilot Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca) transfers all the video and information from the mission before the ship itself breaks into the ocean and begins sinking. The light returns and Dasque opens the airlocks to capture a gigantic, octopus-like creature shortly before the ship is completely destroyed.
What the Movie Does Right
Despite its small budget, this is a movie that has an intelligently chosen cast, all of whom turn in good performances. The most notable face is probably Copley, whose character plays an important but short lived role. I’m sure having Copley in a role with less screen-time saved some money but it was not just a cameo as his character’s death is probably the emotional climax of the movie, setting the stakes and delivering a chilling punctuation to the first part of the film.
Speaking of chilling, this is a movie that in my opinion does a really good job of highlighting the ways in which space is terrifying. There is a low-key claustrophobic aspet to the film and though it’s definitely a slow-burn type movie, scenes like Corrigan’s death provide a type of fright which you have time to ruminate on. Seriously, think of some of the worst ways to die. Is floating forever into the abyss of deep space with no hope of ever having your body recovered by humanity not gut-wrenching? If you answered no, you are a liar or a psychopath. Oh, and then you get to that fucking alien moon that’s just a sheet of ice covering an incomprehensibly deep, dark ocean full of god knows what… Insert everything I said about the space death and apply it here, too. The ocean is the most terrifying thing on Earth, so there’s an inherent creepiness to the fact that this is a movie about raising that to an alien level.
What the Movie Does Wrong
I hope my plot synopsis made sense because if you’ve seen the movie (which I’m hoping you have if you’re reading this review) then you will know that the found-footage element of this thing is a completely incomprehensible mess of non-sequential elements. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some good touches here which could have aided in the ultimate kicker to the film, like Dasque’s character delivering what looks and feels like a post-mission interview being revealed that it is a log taken from the ship moments before she plunges into the ice. Mixing this with actual post-mission interviews of the Earth-based crew who worked on the mission and some totally insane sequences of tacked-together screens in a grid which have no place or purpose in the film ultimately just makes for a confusing visual salad. No one likes salad.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the ridiculous HUD elements to some of the screens used in the film. They are over the top and serve no purpose. Some of them can sort of be explained as visual elements that were used for the TV show of the mission, but I don’t understand how these would have made it to this “cut” of the film. We harp on this a lot, but for a found footage movie there needs to be a reasonable answer for the “who put it together/found it?” question. While the film answers the question of how the content was received back on Earth, what kind of perverse asshole of a privately funded company would have stitched this together like it’s a fucking Big Brother production? The film states that the content is recently “declassified”. This would have been an utter tragedy if it happened. No one would make stylish videos complete with intermittent multi-screen clips of static and horror just for entertainment purposes. No one.
Though I think the focus on this movie’s issues should be placed primarily on the above, there are a couple other items I want to at least mention, though they are subjective. First, I mentioned this is a slow-burn movie. Personally, that didn’t bother me all that much and I found sequences of good tension resulting from some of the breathing room given, but the pacing of the movie overall is kind of a mess. I’ll still blame this mostly on the cutting and sequencing of events, but it does hurt the immersion a bit. Second, and I struggle more with this one, is the science. I am not a scientist. I co-run a website and a podcast with a couple guys who claim to be various degrees of scientists though and they took issue with a lot of what happened in the film. I’m not prepared to speak to most of it, but I can get on board with the gripe that the hydrazine sequence didn’t make sense. Oh, you have a toxic gelatinous mass on your suit? Maybe our 5-factor safety requirement space station has something to deal with that, and it definitely doesn't require you to rocket yourself into the cold leathery arms of outer space. Can we just pop some wet naps out to you to clean your suit off?
Story: 7 - This is a conceptually terrifying movie with a level of intuitive sense attached to it. The search for life could definitely, absolutely lead us to Europa in the not so distant future. I’m not so sure we would send a manned mission, but the idea is a good one with a healthy dose of wonder.
World-Building / Immersion: 6 - I’m a sucker for space movies. I’m also a sucker for underwater movies. Both are terrifying. This movie was smart to combine both and it had me more than it otherwise would have as a result because, like I mentioned, the found footage aspect of this flick is kind of a disaster.
Scare-Factor: 4 - At risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll just say the setting is scary and there are extremely unsettling ways to die on display, but that doesn’t make for sustained scares.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 5.5 - This was a low budget flick and it looks like it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The sets are simple in their repetitiveness, which is fine considering it’s a spaceship. Utility rules. There’s a healthy quantity of CG for all the exterior shots and even those don’t look bad. The only thing that looks pretty shoddy is the surface of Europa itself, which seems like an awkward mix of miniature and CG and just doesn’t seem super believable.
Overall: 6 - I was the highest score on this movie in our group and it wasn’t particularly close. This can feel disjointed, overly long and a bit slow at times, and apparently science nerds might have some problems with the goings-on, but for your average joe, this scratches the space and ocean itches while creating a new, alien ocean itch to the mix. While it’s more of a straight-up sci-fi flick than horror, there is plenty here for a genre fan to take the plunge. It’s on Netflix streaming at the time of this writing.