IO is Netflix‘s latest sci-fi original following other high concept in-house titles like Extinction and The Titan. The film tells of a dystopia future where all but a few have left Earth following a catastrophic event, and it proves to be a deceptive film in deed.
An opening narrative explains that Earth has suffered a fundamental change of atmosphere, rendering the planet without oxygen, and the surviving humans have relocated to a space station called IO. The name “IO” comes from one of Jupiter’s four moons, Io, and was previously the title for Peter Hyams’ criminally underrated film Outland (starring Sean Connery).
Sam (Margaret Qualley) is a young woman who lives in an abandoned observatory that has been converted into a scientific outpost. It sits high in the mountains, above the toxic blanket of gas that covers the rest of the world. When IO announces its final export launch, Sam must decide whether she remains on Earth alone for the rest of her life, or join everyone else on IO. The arrival of a stranger (Anthony Mackie) brings a new curiosity to her life as he desperately seeks her father, Dr. Henry Waldon, who has been missing for some time.
The synopsis sounds well and good and it provides potential viewers with a reason to press play, and with an impressive opening sequence showcasing a brilliantly conceived production design, it is easy to be lured in to this mysterious story (lured/duped… that’s for you to decide). But the amazing city wasteland set pieces that bookend the film are quickly replaced by a minimalist design and cringe-worthy props, reinforcing suspicions that the film’s budget was squandered on two fleeting scenes.
The premise, as it plays out, is simplistic and the concept of a man-made environmental crisis rings true given our current climate change issues. And yet rather than using this correlation to its advantage, IO acts hastily, depicting such a turn of events that mankind was wiped out within a matter of months. Furthermore, the science behind the plot is flaccid and implausible. On one hand we are told that Earth’s entire atmosphere is toxic, and on the other there are areas that bare no danger at all. Suffice to say, this film is not as deep as it asserts and it will require your full suspension of disbelief.
When a film is as long, drawn out and arduous as IO, it is imperative to get the casting right, because if we must endure 96 minutes of hokum then the least we deserve are dynamic performances. Sadly, Qualley delivers a bland and expressionless performance that has you asking the wrong questions (like, could she be a robot?). She spends most of the film looking at things and struggling to react. “Oh look, bees!” and “I have a big telescope” seem to be the extent of the dramatic range she offers here. Of course I am exaggerating, but the truth is that she severely lacks charisma. Oh, and as a side: despite her big telescope being pretty damn old, it has an incredible ability of zooming into Jupiter with macro detail.
Mackie is good in a supporting role and he provides the one point of engagement for the viewer. His dialogue – while reserved and stoic – helps to excavate some of the story’s context and themes, and when pitted against the underwhelming lead performance he can only be commended for doing his best. Danny Huston is also billed as a famed scientist who predicted humanity’s prevail, however his screen time is limited to 5 minutes.
IO is one heck of a pointless venture, and I struggled to reach the end. It isn’t provocative enough to be a cautionary tale, and it isn’t exciting enough to be an adventure. There’s very little drama to call it a… um, drama… and it sure as hell isn’t a thriller. So what is it exactly? A waste of time.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★☆☆☆☆
‘IO’ is currently available for streaming on Netflix. If you want to want to see it (are you sure?), you can do so right HERE.