The premise for I.S.S. is a frightening one. Imagine for a second that you’re an astronaut on board the I.S.S. (International Space Station) and a war breaks out down on Earth between Russia and the US. That alone is terrifying, but then orders come from the ground to take over the base by any means necessary. That’s the situation that Dr. Kira Foster (Ariana DeBose) and Christian Campbell (John Gallagher Jr.) are shoved into in I.S.S.. The film doesn’t pull any punches with a view from space of what nuclear war would look like down below. What follows is a sea of mistrust, lies, tenuous partnerships, and lots of claustrophobia.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite directs a script from Nick Shafir that allows for some tension, but really lacks any sort of bite or suspense. Once you get over the terrifying premise, I.S.S. doesn’t ever really hit another gear. The action having to take place all in zero gravity seems like it would lend itself to some interesting set pieces or takes on established genre tropes, but it doesn’t ever really do anything that noteworthy. Alongside them are the rest of the crew, Gordon Barrett (Chris Messina), Weronika Vetrov (Masha Mashkova), Nicholai Pulov (Costa Ronin), and Alexei Pulov (Pilou Asbaek).

The group is played admirably with one another, but the twists and turns they go through are just sort of lifeless beats. The most interesting portion of the film is before everything goes down, when they’re just being a crew on the I.S.S.. The language barrier leads to some fun moments, and it really feels like this would have been more powerful if we got to know the crew a bit better.

These moments are broken up by the conflict on the ground; and any preconceived notions of nationality go out the window. What you think is going to happen, actually doesn’t. That’s the sort of refreshing part about this movie. While it goes way too lean with the story and thrills, it does offer some interesting choices for the character’s motivations. DeBose is serviceable as the newest astronaut on board. The rest of the cast gets some time to shine, but the real flaw here is taking Chris Messina out of the action for about half of the film. His performance in the film is easily the best and the most charismatic as the de facto leader of the crew. The scene where he learns of the US commands to take over the station is easily the most tense section of the film.

While the film doesn’t feel like it takes any risks, that’s not to say anything here is bad. It just had the potential to be something so much more with the premise. Think of something like The Thing or The Hateful Eight. We all love stories where people are in tense situations in close quarters. It just feels like they took the easiest and least interesting route for this story.

The solid cast definitely takes some material that would have been lesser anywhere else; and gives an incredibly lean movie some depth. It’s a quick movie, only lasting about 90 minutes. However, there isn’t nearly enough suspense, or tension here to hold up the whole thing. The stakes never feel as high as they’re suggested in the film, and the action falls flat.

I.S.S. releases in theaters on January 19th, 2024.

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