Netflix film IO serves the apocalyptic setting well, but it is the direction and the well-measured performances from Margaret Qualley and Anthony Mackie that makes it a success.
If you take the time to read the premise to Jonathan Helpert’s Netflix film IO about a dying world and a determined human survivor, you’d half expect an action-led story reserving human persistence for the dying moments. But that is not what the film has become; instead, it is an account of desperate human connection, linking it to our desire to trust the Earth’s natural cycle and making our home, our planet, the height of our sentimental value.
IO crafts that notion incredibly; handing out candles to the likes of Interstellar, Arrival and The Martian, interlinking all their themes earnestly but still allowing the film to stand on its own two feet. The story unfolds on an apocalyptic-looking setting introducing us to a young scientist named Sam (Margaret Qualley), who is determined to prove that the Earth can be re-homed, while most of the surviving population have fled to a distant space colony.
Margaret Qualley is someone I have not been confronted by before on the screen, but her tentative, and somewhat patient performance is fixating more than the visuals and setting around her. She manages to draw in the sick, destructive world and make it about her feelings, her reaction, and you wait with bated breath for her next narrated line, dialogue or action. Like Matt Damon’s character in The Martian, the director follows Sam around her station and the isolated life she has managed to preserve.
Then Micah (Anthony Mackie) enters IO, a man who has been disillusioned by Sam’s famous father who acted on the theory that the Earth will ride a cycle and can be healthily populated by humans again. He is determined to take the last shuttle with Sam to the distant colony and join the rest of the humans who are well-equipped to find a permanent new home.
Once Anthony Mackie’s character enters the fray, you quickly understand that IO is a movie about the atmosphere between the two characters. Their eagerness to remain connected to the Earth’s nature while contemplating the importance of human connection and survival keeps you gripped throughout the compelling story. The heart over mind, mind over heart concept takes hold; both characters have polar opposite opinions about their dying home. Sam remains courageously hopeful that the theoretical science will hold, while torn promises break Micah, who quietly shows affection to the other character in a desire to save her.
IO opts to settle for an apocalyptic-looking setting but not make it the strength of the film. A noteworthy scene between both characters is when Sam confesses she loves someone a million miles away at the colony and questions whether that is normal. Micah’s response to that query is one to savor and represents the principle of deep-lying human understanding.
I believe IO will not resonate with some audiences for its slow, metaphoric sci-fi approach, but it resonated with me. The one sure takeaway is to look out for Margaret Qualley’s future films.