Remember Apollo 18? Nobody can blame you if you don’t. Like Europa Report, it was a found-footage sci-fi horror film about a crew of astronauts that encounter extraterrestrial life. The premise was right up my alley, but unfortunately Apollo 18 was painfully dull, lacking in any good characterization, and not scary or creepy in the least. Europa Report, on the other hand, is everything Apollo 18 wanted to be.

Ice Fishing on Europa

Set in the very near future, Europa Report follows five astronauts as they travel to Jupiter’s icy moon of Europa in search for extraterrestrial life. The strict adherence to real science makes the film instantly appealing. Many real life scientists support a trip to Europa for the same reason, with real-life astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson actually appearing in archive footage in which he’s encouraging the very trip that Europa Report depicts.

An Ill-Fated Trip


The film is semi-found footage with a dash of mockumentary. The bulk of the film is presented as recovered surveillance footage of the ship and its crew, with interviews of the project’s founders spliced in. It’s constructed like a Discovery Channel special and it pulls off that feel very well. It definitely adds to the somber atmosphere when things start to go wrong.

That’s not a spoiler, because if things didn’t go wrong, there wouldn’t be a movie. Snags are hit left and right and the search for alien life bears interesting fruit, but this isn’t a fast-paced movie. Things unfold slowly, but the movie takes that time to develop its characters. It takes a bit of a shortcut by fitting them into archetypes — the no-nonsense professional, the joker, the cranky European — but through quality writing and convincing performances, they manage to transcend those roles.


With six characters (not counting the mockumentary segments) splitting up the ninety-minute runtime fairly equally, nobody stands out as being developed, but they all feel like real people doing their job, and that’s what ultimately matters. You don’t have to know a character inside and out to empathize with them or root for them to stay alive. As long as they feel human, you can make some sort of emotional connection. Assuming you’re not a sociopath.

Despite spending most of the movie inside of the ship and restricted to static shots, the film manages to look pleasant. The color palette is nice and soothing, which has a disarming effect. The limited effects and shots of space and Europa are beautiful. The film feels much more like a documentary rather than an actual horror film, which reinforces the understated tone director Sebastian Cordero seemed to be going for.

The Slow Burn

Europa Report (2013) Sharlto Copley

Even at ninety minutes, Europa Report does drag every now and then. As I said, it’s very understated, and I generally prefer a lack of drama to an overabundance, but a shot in the arm might’ve done some good. When a film crams so many characters in close quarters for so long, the rising tension is oftentimes a major part of the plot, but that’s not the case here. I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing the film for not following a more familiar structure. The relative lack of conflict between the crew is honestly refreshing, but there needs to be something in its place.

It’s established very early on that the mission doesn’t go as planned, but that doesn’t diminish the rising tension or emotional impact of the film’s third act. Nor does it sour the ultimate payoff, which in most movies probably wouldn’t work, but within the context of Europa Report manages to be completely satisfying.

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