Saturday, January 19

IO Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711
Director: Jonathan Helpert
Starring: Margaret Qualley, Anthony Mackie & Danny Huston
Netflix Original – January 18, 2019

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” – Micah 5:2

IO is one of five “Netflix Originals” released this weekend. The title references one of Jupiter’s moons that is being colonized by humans in the near future due to the environmental contamination of Earth. Margaret Qualley plays Sam, a scientist attempting to stay behind to find a solution to the impending doom as the last launch is scheduled to the new colony. As she works, she comes into contact with Micah (Mackie), one of the last survivors, making his pilgrimage to the launch site. Together, they make a connection that calls into question their previous goals and the value of their work.

I was immediately struck by how well the scenes were shot and composed. Most of the exteriors were shot at the Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur Calern in Thiey, France. The Observatoire de Nice served as the character’s home base for the interiors. Both were picturesque locations that added an organic feel to further the plot. Part of the film’s premise is that the higher elevations still have breathable air. The oxygen gets worse, the closer you get to sea level. The scenes of the contaminated area were shot at Nu Boyana Film Studios, in Sofia, Bulgaria. The set dressing was done very well. I don’t know if I can overstate how important it is for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story to get this part right. The set must feel both lived in as well as destitute. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much was done with this set.

The performances here were adequate, maybe a bit better than that in the case of Qualley. Hers was the most demanding of the film and you only feel the emotional weight of the situation through her. Mackie has had much better performances recently. Danny Huston, who is probably the best actor of the three, is barely in this.

Unfortunately, it’s this film’s screenplay that falls flat. The plot moves along rather
predictably. There is at least one instance in which an early plot point regarding one of the three on-screen characters is treated as though it is supposed to be a surprising twist, but you can smell it a mile away. At least you can if you’ve ever seen a movie before. Most of its revelation had been easily telegraphed by some bits of poorly written dialogue.

The themes here are expressed heavily through metaphors that I found to exist somewhere in between pedantic and pretentious. Said metaphors come from a mixed bag of religious mythology. Mackie’s character is named Micah, the Biblical prophet that predicted the destruction and subsequent rise of Jerusalem, as well as the birth of a savior. If this wasn’t ‘on-the-nose’ enough, it seems that later in the film, his representation changes to the Greek God, Zeus. Both symbols end up serving the same purpose, which is to show the audience how well read the three credited screenwriters are. But neither of these bothered me nearly as much as the decision to refer to the contaminated area of the planet as “The Zone.” Fans of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece, STALKER will instantly associate the two. This comparison is unavoidable and well…. This film certainly doesn’t benefit from any attempt to stack up against past science fiction masterpieces.

I ended up finding parts of this story to be problematic in other ways as well, in spite of obvious attempts to the contrary. The film, like many similar sci-fi works, appears to be making a statement about how important human connections are. This is a beautiful and true sentiment. However, we very quickly learn that the message was not meant to be applied to plutonic relationships. Sam’s long-distance, pen-pal romance has to end abruptly as soon as Micah shows up. Because, how can we as an audience assign any real value to Sam and Micah’s connection unless they’re sleeping together? This may just be me getting a bit too easily triggered but in recent years, it’s something that particularly annoys me. Cinema’s refusal to acknowledge the value or even possibility of plutonic relationships between men and women that has contributed to ridiculous male fantasies like “the friend zone” and Incel/MRA concepts like the “redistribution of sex.” But I digress… I may very well be reading too much into this. But their hook-up instantly reminded me of the incredibly stupid ending of Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR.

I’d like to mention a bit more about other issues that I found to be problematic, but it would be almost impossible for me to express this properly without spoiling most of the film. And I will admit, once a film like this loses me, I tend to nitpick it. The same issues that I found in the third act may very well have been far more forgivable in a different film. So, I’ll leave it alone. Ultimately, this was a disappointment. I am typically very precious about science fiction. The potential for philosophic or moral exploration and expression is too great to be squandered by lazy, clunky and pretentious screenwriting.

Emery’s Rating
2 out of 5 Stars

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