While Netflix has made momentous strides in making original home releases a reality, their releases aren’t always the most inspired films. This has especially been true with their science fiction releases, as films like Mute, The Titan, and Tau have failed to inspire much excitement for the services science fiction offerings. With their latest release IO, I was expecting more of the same, but thankfully the results are surprisingly inspired.
IO follows Sam (Margaret Qualley), a young scientist who remains on the dying remains of planet earth to continue her fathers work. When a stranger named Micah (Anthony Mackie) appears, Sam begins to confront the reality of her future as they try to catch the last shuttle off Earth.
While its premise is certainly familiar to the genre, IO takes a decidedly character-driven approach in exploring these characters and their experience on a decaying Earth. The results, while not always the most compelling, are admirable and generally successful.
Instead of using cheesy special effects to world build, director Jonathan Helpert wisely crafts an apocalyptic world that is much more grounded and realistic. Aside from a few establishing shots, Helpert uses hits wits to establish an apocalyptic landscape that is gritty and unique, with the results being fairly engaging. The film never feels hindered by its low budget, with crafty filmmaking often still keeping the story’s scope intact.
Grounding the film is its leads, who are asked to carry much of it on their shoulders. Margaret Qualley is effective an portraying the character and her struggle with deciding whether to leave the only place she knows. I am glad the character is written to be strong and independent while still having much-needed humanity. Anthony Mackie is quite good as always, with his quiet presence always leaving a positive impact on the characters he plays.
Unlike most low budget science fiction films that opt for camp, Io tackles its premise with sincerity. Much of its run time is less focused on the character’s chase for survival and more so on coming to term with their lives on earth. That personal struggle ultimately resonants with an effectively subdued finale that feels like a proper conclusion to these characters.
Io is not without its significant flaws however. While I appreciate the film’s decidedly patient pace, the third act in particular has moments where it fails to be compelling. The script (collaborated on three writers) fails to build much agency to the final conclusion, missing an opportunity to truly invest the audience into the film.
At the end of the day, Io isn’t doing anything you haven’t seen other science fiction films do significantly better. That being said, the thoughtful approach to its premise delivers a surprisingly sturdy low-budget science fiction flick. If you have Netflix, maybe give Bird Box a break and check this out instead!