Stowaway starts with conviction and a compelling, wrought concept, but ultimately loses its way in the finale
Starring Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, and Toni Collette
There’s a lot that’s familiar about Stowaway, Netflix’s latest Sci-Fi release. Not only does it come from the same idea as last December’s The Midnight Sky, in lending realism to the technologically advanced, but it also adds onto recent films such as The Martian, Gravity and Interstellar in its fascination with adding tension and claustrophobia to space travel.
With only Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson and Toni Collette appearing on screen for the duration of the movie, with Ground Control as a distant unseen voice, director Joe Penna definitely makes this space mission feel highly claustrophobic and incredibly adrift. It makes the incredible dilemma that the crew of MTS-42 face all the more heightened.
Stowaway follows commander Marina Barnett (Collette), biologist David Kim (Kim) and peppy physician Zoe Levenson (Kendrick) from the moment they blast off from Earth on a 2-year mission to Mars to judge its ability to sustain human life. Soon after take-off, the ship achieves artificial gravity by splitting apart and spinning, yet another way of disorienting and unsettling the audience.
Soon after takeoff, however, Barnett discovers an unconscious Michael Adams (Anderson), a launch support engineer whose presence proves a threat to the safety of the rest of the crew. In damaging part of the ship’s life support system that removes carbon dioxide from the air, the group are faced with the prospect that the ship can only support three people. They are faced with the prospect of having to kill Michael in order to assure their own survival.
It is a more than compelling enough premise, and certainly sets Stowaway apart from other films in the same genre. The dilemma faced by the crew is brilliantly played by the whole cast. Kendrick plays Zoe with a bright-eyed, optimistic earnestness, while Kim manages to show nuance within David’s reaction. Collette alternates between horror, anxiety, upset and despair at their predicament, and Anderson consistently portrays Michael’s reaction to his nightmare situation throughout the movie, always focusing the audience upon the realism within the far removed concept.
Unfortunately, what originally begins as an engaging and impossible situation soon becomes less tied up with the potential psychological tension, but instead on finding a solution, becoming more akin to a typical disaster movie instead of sticking to its guns. It would have been more unique to see the crew of MTS-42 struggle with the weight of their decision when faced with their own mortality. To see them turn against each other and pushed to dreadful acts, almost like how the seemingly normal passengers become gradually unhinged in Doctor Who‘s “Midnight”.
Had Stowaway done this, then it could have been a truly extraordinary film. After all, it is supported in its worst moments by a more than capable cast and able direction, but is ultimately let down in the lack of ambition within its writing, falling back on familiar, well trodden tropes instead of blazing its own trail. With a brilliant set-up, Stowaway unfortunately stumbles in its rush towards a definite end point, instead of enjoying the journey it has set up for itself and ends up being little more than average.
Stowaway is streaming now on Netflix.