Netflix Original “IO” lacks emotion and potential
Views 16 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 2 - 6 - 2019 | By: Craig Odenwald
About halfway through the Netflix Original film “IO,” Anthony Mackie declares, “People aren’t meant to be alone.” Unfortunately for Mackie and the story being told, his assertion proves true.
“IO,” directed by Jonathan Helpert, stars Margaret Qualley as Sam Walden, the last woman on Earth. The planet is a toxic wasteland and much of the population has been wiped out. The rest of humanity has fled to Io, a moon of Jupiter, where they have started a new colony. But Sam, a scientist, stays on Earth to try to find ways to preserve life despite the toxicity. Anthony Mackie’s character, Micah, finds her and encourages her to leave Earth with him. Their interactions and differing perspectives on where humanity should go next comprise the main conflict in “IO.”
However, Qualley’s character is left alone for the entire first act, leaving her to ponder, scowl, and accomplish not much else. The pace of “IO” immediately grinds to a halt after the opening narration, which does little to heighten the emotional stakes. Humanity has been wiped out, but all that is told is the aftermath in a stilted audio recording that Sam makes for her boyfriend living on Io. These narrations lack emotion, which becomes a greater issue as the film drags on. Qualley has no other actors to clash with until the conclusion of the first act, making her actions less impactful.
The lack of an emotional connection somehow becomes more prevalent once Mackie’s character does arrive. Sam asks questions about the outside world, but Micah’s cynical, curt responses make for stilted dialogue. Qualley and Mackie are both naturally charismatic, and some of the bright spots in “IO” occur when they banter with one another. But a slow-moving plot with reserved, secretive characters keep the actors from being able to exercise their full range of emotions.
One area where the film does shine is its atmosphere. The sets, from Sam’s mountain hideaway to the toxic streets below, feel lived-in and add an element of realism to the post-apocalyptic setting. Sweeping cinematography by André Chemetoff shows the level of devastation and how it has intermingled with the Earth’s natural calm. In taking time to show the world beyond, some moments, such as a lonely Sam watching the waves roll in on a foggy beach, hit their mark.
“IO” would be a better film if the story and dialogue matched the unique questions it poses. Should we try to escape the place we have always called home? Even if we do move on, will the scars we carry prevent us from changing as people in our new environment? “IO” asks all this and more, eagerly referencing Plato and T.S. Elliot in its attempt to achieve philosophical resonance. And in some areas, the film does succeed, as the third act puts Sam and Micah through a few notable ethical decisions before their potential trip to the stars. But due to the slow, ponderous pace and the extremely small cast, “IO” itself may not be a trip worth taking.