Jan 26, 2019
We’re back with yet another Netflix Original, this time a science fiction treat. For a few others like that, check out “The Cloverfield Paradox” (Episode #044), “The Titan” (Episode #090), “Orbiter 9” (Episode #101), “How It Ends” (Episode #195), “Extinction” (Episode #209), and “Bird Box” (Episode #362). If you have any favorites, let us know over social media or contact us at onemoviepunch.com
Today’s movie is “IO” (2019), the Netflix Original science fiction drama directed by Jonathan Helpert and written for the screen by Clay Jeter, Charles Spano, and Will Basanta. The film follows Sam Walden (Margaret Qualley), one of the last remaining scientists on Earth trying to find a solution for making the planet habitable again. She meets Micah (Anthony Mackie), who tries to encourage her to give up the endeavor and join him on the last shuttle off-world to a new colony. And then a bunch of tangentially-related stuff happens.
The most important thing to get correct in a science-fiction film is to get the underlying science correct. I’m not against bending the rules of science, especially when we discuss emergent science or technology; that’s actually a key role of science fiction as a genre. I’m talking about getting the science wrong, particularly when making a film about the massive, widespread climate change coming in the next thirty years. For instance, “IO” postulates a world where oxygen is rapidly disappearing, being replaced by a more toxic atmosphere that wipes out nearly all life. It’s a great, plausible premise, especially as deforestation and pollution continue, and on paper, Sam Walden is the hero we need.
Sam, as a character, starts out all right, doing her usual routine, and heading into the poison zone looking for supplies, and more importantly, signs of life where you would expect it: in species capable of reproducing rapidly to produce adaptive mutations. Algae, insects, bacteria. I really loved watching the world unfold, which was easily the best part of the film, with great filters and set design, a combination of post-apocalyptic and steampunk stylings. I was really excited to see the film unfold, because it hits all the right notes in the beginning. And then the film takes a turn for the worse.
Sam is great right up until Micah shows up, then her character begins to fall apart pretty fast, through a combination of bad acting and poor dialogue. Qualley and Mackie have absolutely no chemistry together, feeling forced the entire time, which isn’t helped by the unwieldy dialogue that a philosophical science-fiction fan like myself should be eating up. All the potential themes become obfuscated, purposefully hopeless, and tedious. Ninety minutes ends up feeling like a lot longer, which is strange given the deadline of making the last shuttle off-planet. And without spoiling anything, the film utilizes one of the worst deus ex machina plot devices to offer hope. The only thing more disappointing than the ending is how much it represents the current plan to fight the worst effects of climate change, which is that something will just magically happen, instead of needing to put in the work seen at the beginning of the film. And the science in the film, especially at the end, is way, WAY wrong.
“IO” (2019) is a philosophical science-fiction film plagued by terrible dialogue and bad acting, examining, and then throwing away, any themes worth discussion. While the film does a great job with story structure and world design, the film struggles too much in other areas to rescue it. Science-fiction fans, or even philosophy fans, should definitely check this one out, but don’t be surprised if you hate parts of it as much as I did.
Rotten Tomatoes: 33%
One Movie Punch: 5.4/10
“IO” (2019) is rated TV-14 and is currently streaming on Netflix.