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Film / I.S.S.

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I.S.S. is an American sci-fi thriller film directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) from a screenplay by Nick Shafir. It stars Ariana DeBose, Chris Messina, John Gallagher Jr., Masha Mashkova, Costa Ronin, and Pilou Asbæk. It debuted at Tribeca 2023 ahead of a theatrical release in the United States in January 2024.

A team of American and Russian astronauts work together on the International Space Station. However, they soon witness a nuclear exchange taking place on Earth, and soon learn that Russia and the United States are at war. The Americans receive a secret order to eliminate their Russian teammates and take control of the I.S.S., and suspect that the opposing side has received similar orders. Tensions run high as the astronauts try to survive.


  • Anti-Radiation Drug: Alexey has discovered a cure for radiation sickness. It becomes a MacGuffin for both America and Russia, who would both very much like to decide who survives the aftermath of the nuclear war.
  • Apocalypse How: From what see from orbit, the nuclear war is a Class 2 at the very least — much of North America has been reduced to a sea of fire, and presumably Russia is no better off.
  • Audience Surrogate: Protagonist Kira is the team's newest recruit and is introduced to the setting and character dynamics along with the audience.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Nicholai is the initial main threat to the protagonists, trying to kill the Americans on orders from the Russian government. After he is killed, Christian becomes the main antagonist when he betrays the others in order to escape alone with the research.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The movie ends with the other four astronauts dead and Alexey wounded. Alexey and Kira climb into a Soyuz in freefall, not knowing where they're headed or if they'll even survive the trip down; however they do have the cure for radiation sickness, and since they were contacted by their respective governments, society hasn’t completely collapsed.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins and ends with Kira aboard a Soyuz.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: The premise of the film. Three astronauts and three cosmonauts witness a nuclear war on Earth and receive secret orders to capture the I.S.S. for their respective nations.
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: Nicholai seemingly kills Gordon by knocking him off the space station early in the film, only for the latter to return during the climax. However, Gordon and Nicholai die in a Mutual Kill shortly after.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Christian gives Kira a miniature Space Station as a welcome gift when she arrives. She and Alexey use the strap on it to kill him in their fight at the end after he tries to murder them.
  • Closed Circle: The film's premise. Six astronauts, one cramped space station detached from mission control down below, both sides ordered to eliminate the other...
  • Conflicting Loyalty: When both the Americans and the Russians are commanded to take control of the I.S.S. "by any means necessary," the astronauts on board are forced to choose between following their nation's orders or staying loyal to their close friends onboard.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: On the International Space Station, during World War III, with a quickly Dwindling Party sharing the "McClane" role.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on in the film, Kira finds four of her mice have clawed each other up due to not having any surface to properly hold onto in zero gravity, forcing her to put them aside for euthanization; this parallels Nika, Gordon, Nicholai, and Christian killing/being killed by each other due to losing or lacking something to hold onto (Nika: believing her lover is dead; Gordon: knowing Nika is dead; Nicholai: being unwilling to put empathy for the American astronauts above his country's orders; Christian: undergoing Sanity Slippage and believing Kira and Alexey need to die in order for him to live and return to his daughters.) Crossing over into Rule of Symbolism, this is reinforced when Kira discovers that Alexey put up a net for her two remaining mice so they could hold on and not hurt each other, paralleling the two of them teaming up and putting aside their nations to take down Christian.
  • I Lied: Nika promises to create a distraction so Kira can take Alexey's radiation research and escape the ISS with it, but when Christian tells Kira there is no "Pod 0", she thinks Nika lied to her and that her threat to destroy the ISS is sincere, and Christian kills her in the ensuing confrontation. It's only later that Kira finds that there is a Pod 0, and realizes Christian is the one who lied, then finds that he betrayed them and is planning to escape himself with the radiation research and leave her and Alexey for dead.
  • Improvised Weapon: The astronauts turn to random objects on the space station when forced to kill each other. Murders are committed or attempted with mundane things like gas tanks and screwdrivers.
  • Irony: In their Mutual Kill, Nicholai and Gordon kill each other with their own weapons. Nicholai steals the power drill that Gordon attacked him with to mortally wound him, and the latter then slips the screwdriver that the former was using earlier to hunt Kira and Christian out of his pocket and fatally stabs him in the neck with it.
  • Mutual Kill: Gordon and Nicholai in their fight; the latter fatally stabs the former, who uses the last of his strength to pull a Taking You with Me.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Nicholai and initially Alexey follow orders to seize control of the ISS, with the former luring Gordon into a trap by tricking him into doing a spacewalk and then knocking him off the ship, while the latter cuts the communication wire and replaces it with a fake to keep the others from talking to Gordon or the ground. Christian plays with this, as he doesn't trust the Russians and is Properly Paranoid that they'll take this attitude, only willing to fully confide in his fellow Americans from then on, but probably wouldn't have tried to kill anyone if the Russians hadn't struck first.
  • The Place: The film is titled I.S.S. and is set on the International Space Station.
  • Properly Paranoid: As soon as both sides receive their orders from their respective countries, Christian is immediately suspicious of the Russians, thinking they'll turn on them and strike. He's not wrong, since Alexey sabotages their comms system (albeit very reluctantly, and regrets it later once people start dying), and Nicholai kicks off the violence between their two groups by trying to kill Gordon.
  • Red Herring:
    • Because Kira is new and still the most distant and awkward with the other astronauts, it might look like it's building to her being one of the crewmembers more willing to kill the others because she's less attached to them. She's actually one of the most reluctant to hurt or kill anyone and tries to defend them against Christian's suspicions, and always chooses doing the right thing over nationalism.
    • Alexey comments to Kira at the beginning that bringing test mice onboard the ISS hasn't worked out well in the past, and it's made to look like he does something sinister to them after Kira leaves, especially since she finds a couple of them dead the next day. Additionally, he acts the most distant and aggressive of all six astronauts at first, indicating that he might be the first to snap and kill someone when the orders come in. But at the end, he's actually been the most reluctant to kill of all six astronauts aside from Kira and even takes her side in the final confrontation. Moreover, once the two of them are the only survivors left, Kira finds that Alexey actually helped the mice by installing a netting inside their containment that gave them something to hold onto so they didn't have to remain free floating.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: How most of the crew ultimately reacts to the orders to violently seize control of the ISS.
    • Gordon shows no indication that he's planning on following the order, or at least hurting anyone else. It helps that Nika, the female cosmonaut, is his lover.
    • Nika is completely disgusted with her follow cosmonauts for killing their friend Gordon (as none of them know yet that he's still alive), and immediately turns on them and goes to Kira instead with a plan to help her get off the ISS.
    • Despite his sabotage of the Americans' comms system, Alexey genuinely didn't know Nicholai was going to murder Gordon, and seeing how devastated Nika is makes him regret his actions all the more. Even after Christian kills Nika in what he insists was self-defense, the distraught Alexey still refuses to help Nicholai murder him and Kira, actually hides Kira from him, uses the robotic arm to save Gordon after seeing him clinging to the ship, and doesn't want anyone else to die, only helping Kira kill Christian when he tries to kill them first and then leaving the ship with her while they both ignore their governments' communications.
    • Despite Kira starting off as the most distant member of the team because she's new and they're all strangers to her, she's one of the more reasonable members who wants to trust both sides and, like Gordon, has no desire to hurt any of the others. She decides to trust the more reasonable Nika over the paranoid Christian rather than going by country loyalty, and never initiates violence, only fighting in self-defense. The only person she kills at all is Christian, her own teammate who betrayed her, and escapes with Alexey and his research.
  • Taking You with Me:
    • As part of a plan to distract Nicholai and Alexey so Kira can escape with the latter's research, Nika pretends to want to blow up the ISS and kill them all in mad grief over Gordon's death. When Christian fools Kira into believing Nika was lying to her, it looks like she's not pretending and this really is the case, which is how Christian justifies killing her with a gas tank, but she's later exonerated.
    • When Nicholai fatally stabs Gordon with a power drill, Gordon uses the last of his strength to plunge a screwdriver into Nicholai's neck. Both die.
  • Together in Death: Lovers Nika and Gordon are both dead by the end.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth:
    • Gordon is a Reasonable Authority Figure who has no intention of following through on the US's commands to use "any means necessary" to take the ISS, because the cosmonauts are his friends (and Nika is his lover). And yet, despite it saddening him, Nicholai lures him into a spacewalk and uses the robotic arm to knock him off the ship in an attempt to kill him. Even after Gordon survives, once he returns, he goes nuts in despair at learning Nika is dead and attacks Nicholai, the man who tried to kill him, in rage, resulting in a Mutual Kill.
    • Nika is the warmest and kindest astro/cosmonaut working aboard the ISS, and the first one to actually die when Christian, mistakenly believing her threat of blowing up the ship and killing them all to be sincere, caves in the back of her skull with a gas can.
  • Wham Shot: Kira looks out the cupola window... and sees mushroom clouds erupting across the United States.
  • World War III: A particularly destructive one between the U.S.A. and Russia.