When it comes to the way-tired genre of found footage films, there are pretty much two schools: fixed-camera story-telling, like Paranormal Activity (which I haven't seen), and mobile-camera stories like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. The first big shock of Europa Report is how good it is. The second big shock of Europa Report is that it uses a third style: the multi-camera, time-shifting, after-the-fact documentary.
In essence, ER plays like a really good PBS documentary about the events aboard a manned, privately-owned spaceship that was sent to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Splicing present-day interviews with footage from the far and near-past, this movie shows us the importance of such a project, the impact that mission failures had on the people back home, and the perils faced by the brave astronauts.
First, I should say that I meant to see this in a theater last year but lisses out - I was so glad Netflix picked it up for Streaming. The theater would've been better, tho: this picture is filmed brilliantly. It looks beautiful, the fx are great, and the cameras are used quite cleverly. For one thing, the astronauts use the cameras to observe each other as well as their environment. For another, this movie really knows when and how to use darkness well. Visually, Europa Report is nothing short of arresting.
Just as impressive, the film manages to build a great sense of mystery and tension. Strange events happen, and we see the aftermath, but we don't know what actually occurred until much later - an element that ER uses quite well.
The film establishes its world and makes it feel real. Moreover, it waits a while to really introduce the characters and I like how that is handled here. The premise is cool enough to not have us suffer further info overload, so it works and shows confidence on the part of the filmmakers.
Amazingly, with a story about astronauts, we already have a reason to be invested because (a) we're all scared of being in such a deadly environment, (b) the possibility of scientific discovery is exciting, and (c) people of various generations have lived the through the tragic loss of at least one group of space explorers. These kinds of stories are ripe for not having the greatest focus on who the characters really are inside.
Their varying emotions are great and well-displayed, and I like the crew logs a lot, too. In addition to generally enjoying the sound in this picture, Bear McCreary composed a really wonderful, compelling score. Many Youtube users have uploaded various tracks, and you should check them out.
While the ending may smack a bit of Cloverfield to some, I want you to rest assured: this film isn't some amusement park ride disguised as a motion picture. Europa Report is an experience, an enjoyable one at that, and you won't feel disappointed or annoyed, even when some of the roles take stupid risks or make speeches. I couldn't imagine that a found-footage film would feel this real, or be this rewarding, and all credit goes to the cast and crew for this. Watch this movie ASAP!