Houston, we’ve found the Netflix version of The Martian.
Synopsis: As a young scientist searches for a way to save a dying Earth, she finds a connection with a man who’s racing to catch the last shuttle off the planet. (Netflix)
Starring: Margaret Qualley, Anthony Mackie, and Danny Huston
Writers: Clay Jeter, Charles Spano, and Will Basanta
Director: Jonathan Helpert
Running Time: 96mins
Directed by Jonathan Halpert, IO follows the story of ambitious scientist Sam (Qualley). Following in her father Doctor Walden’s (Huston) footsteps, Sam hopes to discover a way to repair the Earth’s toxic atmosphere with bees. When mysterious traveller Micah (Mackie) arrives looking for her father, he discovers the truth and urges Sam to stop her project. With nothing left for either of them on Earth, they embark on a journey to the final shuttle to IO.
Smart science fiction has always been a big category within the genre. Unfortunately it is always hit-or-miss. Everything needs to be working for the film to succeed. The premise, script, dialogue, performances, cinematography, landscapes. This can be said about a lot of sci-fi films from the past few years including Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, Interstellar, Ex Machina, Annihilation and The Martian. While this Netflix addition is most like the latter, it still isn’t up to par with any of the giants in this genre.
It’s a slow burn of a story that focuses on an underused theme in post-apocalyptic films: the desire for human connection in a desolate world. The theme manages to make itself apparent, but it is surrounded by obstacles that only impede its success. The dialogue is awkward, the lack of chemistry between the characters is apparent and the performances are competent for what they are. The forced romance just adds another unfortunate layer that hinders this story. In retrospect, the premise is a fantastic idea, but it fails to execute to its fullest potential.
There are some slight positives for this film. The cinematography and editing are immersive and create the atmosphere needed for this story. They manage to bring a good pacing to the slow story. This creates a tone that is complemented by a decent sci-fi themed score. Unfortunately, the special effects end up being on-par with other Netflix sci-fi entries.
Overall, IO is a serious science fiction drama that takes a more intimate look at a post-apocalyptic world. While it has a great premise complemented by a strong message, immersive cinematography and tantalizing score, the dragging, tensionless story, inorganic dialogue, underwhelming characters and pedestrian performances make it a slow burn to its inevitable end. This film will be interesting to fans of grounded science fiction drama, but it will bore you to death if you expect any action or thrills whatsoever.
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