I.S.S. Review: Six Astronauts Fight A Global War In Space

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
I.S.S. Review: Six Astronauts Fight A Global War In Space

Six astronauts battle for control as the world literally burns beneath them in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s space-set thriller I.S.S., in theaters now from Bleecker Street Media.

First-time astronaut, Dr. Kira Foster (Ariana DeBose, West Side Story), is full of nervous excitement for her maiden voyage on the International Space Station. There on a mission to help humanity, she’s partnered with two other Americans and a trio of Russian cosmonauts in a joint activity that’s been ongoing for the last 25 years. More than just a high-tech floating lab, the I.S.S. represents a brotherhood between former Cold War foes where politics and enmity are replaced by a spirit of cooperation. Or at least that was the case before the bombs started dropping.

When all-out war sets the Earth’s surface ablaze, the two factions are set against one another. Each commanded by their governments to seize control of the I.S.S. from the other at all costs. So begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse where loyalties are tested, boundaries are pushed, and not everyone makes it out alive. It’s an exhilarating blast of close-quarters deceit and brutal violence as they race to take control of the last neutral zone, but it won’t be neutral for long.

I.S.S. does amazing things with its fairly modest budget, thanks to an economy of storytelling by Cowperthwaite and her writer, Nick Shafir, who makes the most of his feature debut with this electrifying piece. Clocking in right around ninety minutes, I.S.S. wastes no time getting to the meat of the story. A quick thirty-minute set-up tells the audience everything they need to know about the characters, their interpersonal relationships, and the conflict at hand and then it’s off to the races.

Joining DeBose on the American side is Gordon (Chris Messina), a cautious but headstrong force and the less stable Christian (John Gallagher, Jr.), who is all about the mission but struggles when it comes to focusing past his life on Earth. The frenemy Russian team consists of the super friendly Weronika “Nika” (Maria Mashkova), and her two partners Alexey (Pilou Asbæk) and Nicholai (Costa Ronin), a trio of dynamic personalities who will clash not only with their opponents, but with each other as the situation becomes increasingly grim.

While this could easily have been a very simple story of two groups pitted against each other in all-out battle within the confines of the space station, I.S.S. expands the canvas modestly, sending the action out into the cosmos sparingly to remind the audience of what is at stake. The fight quietly raging within the station is smartly augmented by the violent backdrop of the world in flames below, a terrifying visual that reminds the audience that this ridiculous violence feels petty in the grand scheme of things.

Shafir’s script not only does an excellent job of setting the scene for the betrayals to come, it also effectively misdirects the audience and the characters through words and actions at every opportunity. Even though we appear to have a clear lead who is tipped as our “final girl” from the jump, she’s not that simple, there’s more to everything that we learn as we go along. Excellent writing, directing, and performances from the small ensemble make this fantastic idea work like gangbusters, and when the credits finally roll, the audience is blissfully exhausted by the experience.


  • Gabriela Cowperthwaite
  • Nick Shafir
  • Ariana DeBose
  • Chris Messina
  • John Gallagher Jr.
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Gabriela CowperthwaiteNick ShafirAriana DeBoseChris MessinaJohn Gallagher Jr.Sci-FiThriller

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