Review: Europa Report (2013, Sebastian Cordero)

Humankind goes on a mission to explore Jupiter moon "Europa". What will we find? And how will we get back home?

Science-fiction documentary/found-footage style movie "Europa Report" is a comparably small production, but it opens an entire book of philosophy. It kind of works as a pure thriller, albeit maybe a slightly sober one. But especially if you're the thinking kind of viewer, this movie will keep you occupied for a long time.

In an extended news report, we follow our fictional crew on their journey to moon "Europa". Various challenges and problems lead to setbacks, and tragedy. Still, the team persists. The movie is an exercise in exposing existential questions of humankind. The on-screen action is limited (to some degree probably by the budget), but it's motivated and held together by the writing, and cool, serious, atmospheric mise-en-scene. This perfectly fits the setting, it adds to the survival-suspense, our crew is made of serious scientists. The characters feel a little two-dimensional here and there, and there's the occasional move that feels forced, but, in a sense, that just emphasizes what the movie is all about. It's an exciting space thriller, but "Europa Report" has much bigger ideas.

At some point it just hits you, either while you're watching it, or after. Questions. Many questions. Who are these people? Why does someone choose to go an such a journey? Is that an accurate depiction of how a person behaves under such circumstances? Is that a scientist's mindset? Does science justify such a mission? What place, and purpose, does science have in humankind? What place has one life in evolution? Are we alone? The list goes on. This film is genuinely profound. It creates a string of situations that are thrilling, sometimes scary and sad, to watch, but at the same time point to fundamental, universal questions of life and humanity. Which means: to us, the viewers.

"Europa Report" is fascinating, captivating, and highly thought-provoking. What it lacks in budget, it easily makes up for in clever premise, epic implications, and coherent execution. This is one of the films after watching which you're going to want to have someone to talk with.

Verdict: Clear, existential, moving. Outstanding sci-fi. 9/10



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Review: Tras el cristal ("In a glass cage", 1986, Agusti Villaronga)

A Nazi criminal tries to escape his dark past and his demons by attempting suicide. But he fails, and ends up in an iron lung, requiring constant attention and care. A young male nurse is assigned to the job, and appears to have an unexpectedly deep relation to the patient...

If there's any aspect of humanity that deserves to be characterized as "innocent", it has to be the children. The loss of that innocence is a tragedy, and oftentimes becomes the root of more tragedy to come.

"Tras el cristal" is a Spanish horror thriller that deals with childhood trauma, and, in a wider sense, with war, but in strong contrast to e.g. "Quien puede matar un nino?" goes deep into psychology, exposing the individual experience of pain.

Given the horrific premise of the story, and the meticulous execution of the film, "Tras el cristal" is genuinely hard to watch. On the surface it's a depressingly dark tale of revenge, a sinister psycho thriller that plays out to grotesque levels. But at its core is a sad, sobering truth: The trauma will be passed on. Life does not choose - it just adapts.

Visually, it's dark, and surreal. We're undoubtedly in real horror territory. This is not a crime movie - this is about the human soul. Throughout the movie we're seeing traumatized characters. Which are portrayed by the actors, young and old, with gut-wrenching accuracy. The mere sight of a person in an iron lung might be hard to stomach for some, but "Tras el cristal" goes much, much further in its descriptions and depictions. Actually not too much is shown on screen, but enough to make you gasp, and your mind will fill in the gaps.

Is it an exploitation movie? Well, yes, it kind-of is. It's a horror movie after all, which implies simplification and provocation, to make it accessible for the intended audience. And it's an effective one. In fact it's so effective, and scenes involving children are always a particularly sensitive issue, it's really not for everyone. But "Tras el cristal" is also a well-rounded, captivating production, adequate to the difficult subject in its serious tone, and undeniably carries an important message that must be universally heard and understood: Don't hurt a child.

Verdict: Dark. Very, very dark. 7/10 



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Review: Quien puede matar un nino? ("Who can kill a child?", 1976, Narciso Ibanez Serrador)

A man and his pregnant wife seek ease and reclusion on an island. What they find is the island to be seemingly devoid of people - except for the children. Slowly, the couple begins to uncover the true extent of what is going on...

Spain has produced a round of outstanding horror movies - one of which certainly is this one. It's genuinely scary, and can be pretty tough to sit through, especially if you're a parent. 

Two obvious themes come to mind when trying to analyze this film: a couple facing birth of their child, and rebellion of children. A third one is hidden in plain sight: Could you actually kill a child? Under what circumstances could this even become an option? These questions alone are almost too uncomfortable to even think about, let alone seeing them applied in a movie.

That's a lot of heavy subject matter. But do not despair. "Quien puede matar un nino?" takes the easy way out. It doesn't go into the actual psychological causes and implications of the above, or, just to a very limited degree. If it really would, it would also be a very, very long movie, and, being in the horror genre, probably just downright devastating.

What remains is an intense shocker, that decides not to answer the (partly serious) questions it asks. In that sense, it's a bit on the naive side, but in every other sense it goes all the way, and doesn't flinch away from the consequences. Technically, the acting is good to outstanding, there are a couple of epic scenes of creeping terror, the script, together with some nice editing, provides twists and reveals, music is used sparsely, but effectively, and everything is put together with a good pace, resulting in a constantly growing feeling of suspense and scare. "Quien puede matar un nino?" is a terrifying experience, that might be a little too much for some, but at its heart is inspired by the love for children, and - thankfully - is "just" a great horror film.

Verdict: Hellish. Grotesque. Brilliant. 8/10



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