REVIEW: IO (2019)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of IO — Directed by Jonathan Helpert.

Netflix is starting to build itself a — let’s call it — ‘fascinating’ library of original films. The service is filled to the brim with poor-to-average comedies, many of which feature Adam Sandler and his friends, and yet Netflix has started to make a name for itself as a place where unconventional or unmarketable films from great, noteworthy filmmakers are given a global reach.

But, in between these two piles of films of varying success, a film like IO exists. IO has a small but recognizable cast, the film is made by an up-and-coming filmmaker, and it struggles with themes present in films that sci-fi aficionados adore.

In Jonathan Helpert’s IO, Earth has been abandoned. Exodus shuttles have sent humanity to ‘Io’, one of Jupiter’s moons, as Earth becomes darker, dirtier, and more and more toxic. But not all of humanity lost hope.

Sam Walden (played by Margaret Qualley), daughter of the scientist Dr. Henry Walden (played by Danny Huston), is still on Earth looking for an answer to whether or not humanity can still thrive on its home planet. Though she is running out of oxygen to make trips into the toxic Museum of Art, she lives on a hill with clean oxygen, fresh vegetables, and a research station.

When her long-distance partner on Io, informs Sam that the last Exodus shuttles will be leaving in a few days, Sam has a choice to make: will she keep hope and stay on the planet she believes is being reborn but not dying, or will she try to make it to an Exodus shuttle with Micah (played by Anthony Mackie), a new acquaintance who makes his entry in a helium-powered airship balloon, who has lost the hope that Sam’s father instilled in her.

This film will undoubtedly remind many of both Wall-E and The Martian, still, though, IO will be a tough sell for the average Netflix subscriber. It isn’t a fast-paced science-fiction film. It doesn’t include impressive and captivating color schemes. Though the plot technically has a countdown, you never feel the ticking clock. Jonathan Helpert’s IO is desperate to make connections to Greek mythology, and it is largely predictable and unhurried in pace.

These aren’t just problems in marketability, some of these are also genuine problems that the film has. I appreciated the production design, Anthony Mackie’s presence, and Margaret Qualley’s performance as the last woman in the world clinging onto hope, and I think it is nice to have a science-fiction film about the ‘power of human connection’ on the streaming service.

But I don’t think Helpert successfully made the connections to Greek mythology more than just quirks and a decent last-minute reference. Much worse is the lack of positive momentum that would give life to the plot, and the predictability of the conflict and ending.

Jonathan Helpert’s IO is an interesting smaller Netflix original science-fiction film which aims to do something much different than your average film in the genre. Though it is far more interesting than Netflix sci-fi films like ARQ or Spectral, IO‘s complete predictability and lack of momentum stop it from becoming as memorable or worthwhile as its themes suggested it would be.

5.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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