I.S.S. As Above, So Below

17th Dallas International Film Festival

By Ben Bright

New year, new review!

I.S.S. is a flick that I have been looking forward to for a while now. This thriller set in space on the International Space Station has the elements of Sci-fi and horror. I feel grateful to do a review of this film.

Halloween and the holidays are over (Halloween is my real holiday season but we’ll revisit that in October) and there is a lot to unpack here so I am departing from my usual jovial tone for this one.

War is a terrible thing, but it has been around since the beginning of human civilization and will probably be around until it’s dusk.

This is reflected in the new Sci-fi thriller, I.S.S.

The International Space Station was launched in 1998 to bring together The United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and the European Union first for scientific ventures but for the sake of the narrative of the story, it brings together Russians and Americans.

We begin the film with United States astronaut Dr Kira Foster portrayed by Ariana DuBose (West Side Story, Hamilton) joining the team of Russian and American cosmonauts and astronauts respectively at the I.S.S.

When she arrives, The Russians and Americans are working together as a team to continue their scientific endeavors together to further benefit the future of humankind with a sense of familial harmony where they cohabitate and dine together as one. The leader of the cosmonauts Nicholai depicted by Costa Ronin (The Americans, Homeland, and Netflix’s recent action comedy, Obliterated). Who I am personally a fan of. If you have not seen the Americans, I highly recommend watching it. It is currently streaming on Hulu or if you have half a brain, just go and buy it on physical media on Amazon) Ronin, whose character, even states at the dinner table that they do not talk about politics there because in space, they are one people all while “Wind of Change” by the Scorpions is playing at the dinner table. A song with a lyric asking the question if they could live like brothers.

Astronaut Gordon Barrett, portrayed by Chris Messina (Air, The Newsroom) depicts a truly conflicted character within the space stations command. They even go to the observation room to point out that from space you see no borders down on Earth. Their seemingly idyllic existence is disrupted though when they observe explosions on the earth’s surface.

A world war has broken out.

In communication with NASA, the American astronauts are given orders from Earth that they must take control of the space station “at all costs”. One astronaut even makes the point that if they are getting these orders, what if the cosmonauts are being given the same orders from Russia.

What follows is their own small war delegated by the powers below them on Earth. The Astronauts and Cosmonauts are drawn away from their scientific pursuits that were intended to benefit mankind and into their own war against each other against their will by their respective countries to do what is being done approximately 250 miles below them. (Google that, I did)

What follows is a thriller filled with paranoia, distrust, betrayal, and violence as the world below is literally on fire where the war in space is figuratively on fire.

The film is interesting because it shows us objectively the points of view of both the Russians and Americans positioned with a conflicted sense of duty.


The multiple parallels in the film are clearly drawn and intertwined simultaneously. Russia is at war with the United States down on Earth and these astro-scientists are now at war with each other. Each nation has a crew of three, two males and one female. Each nation’s scientist has their own counterpart reflecting mindset, personality, and ideology some headstrong, some rational, and some in the middle. 2, 2, and 2. Mirror reflections of each other. This person and that person who complement each other torn apart by something ultimately out of their control.

Two nations, two worlds, two groups of scientists, two wars.

What I.S.S. achieves is a well-executed anti-war film. It goes beyond continents and extends into space and how it affects the citizens a few hundred miles above them.

Who was right? Who was wrong? Who was the “good guy” or “bad guy”? It shows us that there is no clear antagonist or protagonist. I believe that this film should be watched twice. Watch once from the American’s perspective and once from the Russian’s perspective and you’ll see them as both only victims of catastrophic circumstance. They went from an informal family to enemies within a manner of what seems like less than 24 hours.

In war everyone is a victim, especially the innocents.

If a political thriller is the kind of film, you would enjoy then you should catch I.S.S and enjoy your trip into space. And will the world ever change? Quoting the final line of the film, my answer is, ‘I don’t know’.

15th Dallas International Film Festival