Warning: Light spoilers for IO lie ahead.
Not every world-ender can be world-ending.
IO, the latest post-apocalyptic drama from Netflix, began streaming this weekend—but viewers crossing their fingers for another Bird Box are going to be disappointed.
While the film’s premise and plot are fine enough, IO‘s lacking emotional depth takes what could have been an intimate look at the end of days and instead delivers a cringe-worthy reflection on shallow character creation.
The slow-burn sci-fi drama takes place on an abandoned Earth, most the human race having fled its increasingly toxic atmosphere to colonize one of Jupiter’s moons, Io. Among the few who remain on our dying planet are IO‘s main (and basically only) two characters, Sam and Micah.
Sam, played by Margaret Qualley, is a young scientist working to salvage a livable corner of Earth and shepherd the human race back to its original home. Micah, played by Anthony Mackie, is a fellow survivor who arrives at Sam’s shelter seeking answers about her and her father’s research.
When the two meet, they debate whether they need to leave the planet. Then, they talk about a few philosophers. And then, they debate about leaving the planet some more. That is, in a very simplified nutshell, all that happens in the hour-and-half-long movie. At the big climax, Sam and Micah each make their choice and the credits roll.
Although many might point to IO‘s intimate plotting, slow pacing, and generally sparse setting and sound design as entertainment deal breakers, none of those matters of taste particularly bothered me. But this minimalist style does shift a lot of responsibility onto IO‘s two main characters, making caring about what they say vitally important.
Unfortunately, I did not care about them or what they had to say. Not one bit.
While the acting was satisfactory and the scripting only occasionally melodramatic, the main characters’ shared philosophy towards the Earth’s worthiness felt insincere throughout. In one breath, Micah would lament the loss of a family the audience never got to meet or get invested in. Shortly thereafter, Sam would picturesquely clutch her beloved mythology books, looking like a troubled Disney princess left questioning so much and yet saying so little.
IO‘s clichéd reaches for emotional resonance continue throughout the film, landing each time with a hollow thud that left me begging for a toxic storm to wipe the characters and their broody monologues off-screen.
The oversaturated post-apocalyptic genre is unquestionably difficult to stand out in and IO‘s perspective is somewhat fresher than many of its predecessors’. By focusing on the aftermath of an abandoned planet and not the promise of a new one, IO manages to carve out a relatively novel niche within a been-there-done-that storyline. But compared to similar projects in recent memory, like Reed Morano’s I Think We’re Alone Now, it’s no question that these characters and their stories are lacking.
If this misstep can teach future genre creators anything, it’s that you don’t need expensive CGI and elaborate disaster scenes to tackle doomsday—but you will always need something or someone at the end of the world worth saving.
IO is now streaming on Netflix.
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