What we now know is that something went wrong with the Europa space mission, and the team back on Earth must sift through the hours of footage captured by the cameras onboard the spacecraft to find out what went wrong, though so far the record appears to stop at some point when it all began to come apart. Mission director Dr Unger (Embeth Davidtz) has made her thoughts plain in an interview, expressing her regret that the crew seem to be lost, an international combination of scientists including a marine biologist, Katya Petrovna (Karolina Wydra), who was hoping to assist in finding new life beneath the icy surface of the Jupiter moon within the waters below...
Although the final message of Europa Report is that sacrifice is completely worth it as long as progress is made, the opposite effect was more likely to strike the viewer thanks to the efforts director Sebastián Cordero and his team went to in order to make his film as authentic as possible. Yes, this was hard science fiction, of which had not been seen too often when action or even horror hybrids were more often the norm in big screen versions of the genre. That said, there were moments here intended to be scary, but only because we felt sympathy with the vulnerable humans in their fragile spaceship travelling so far from Earth that there's no hope of their being saved should disaster strike.
Which is why you may well emerge from this believing space travel was simply too dangerous for exploration purposes when we could send robotic probes to do the investigation work instead. This brings us to the downside of hard sci-fi: no matter how rigorous the filmmakers thought they were, there's always the issue that they would have got something incorrect, which for the fans of this subset of the style was a big no-no. Therefore Europa Report was dismissed out of hand by anyone who knew more about space travel than the screenwriter Philip Gelatt apparently did what with such credibility destroying gaffes as a radio link to Earth that works as well as a mobile phone conversation back home would, and the moon of the title being surprisingly sunny on the surface.
If you were of a more forgiving nature and wanted to be engaged with a straightforward (though this was maybe too straightforward) science fiction yarn which cut a few narrative corners for the sake of keeping the plot moving, then you'd get a lot more out of this. It had been designed with an economy akin to an actual space mission, with a very pleasing interior set for the cast to make their way around, just as well when it's most of what we see on the screen, and some special effects that belied the fairly low budget. There were no huge stars here, celebrity-wise rather than celestial body-wise, but you would recognise Embeth Davidtz trying to keep her character's professional composure as she relays the tale of woe, and Sharlto Copley had been making a name for himself internationally in bigger movies than this.
There was also Michael Nyqvist as the elder member of the team, who was famous in Sweden at least, but really this was ensemble time with every actor pulling their weight, not bad in zero gravity. As for the main question of whether the mission actually discovers life out there on (or under) Europa, you could probably guess the answer to that one since science fiction rarely depicts utter futility when it comes to the sort of endeavour we saw here, but the film kept its cards close to its chest about what was going on and whether it was intelligence that would be encountered out there or something more animalistic. Thankfully, it did not descend into yet another monster chasing after the astronauts runaround, mainly because in those cramped conditions you wouldn't get much chasing done, but visually this was obviously aspiring to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which it didn't quite achieve yet gave it a damn good try. As a found footage movie, it was a neat variation, though all the interference on the imagery might make you think the screen was broken. Music by Bear McCreary.