Review: Engaging sci-fi drama 'Stowaway' grounded in reality
Courtesy of Netflix
Joe Penna knows a thing or two about creating suspense in small, isolated places. He did it with Mads Mikkelsen in his little seen thriller “Arctic” and he does it again in the Netflix acquisition “Stowaway.” Except this outing takes the rising filmmaker in space, where an ultimate: “what would you do?” scenario is presented. Audiences turning on “Stowaway” expecting to see otherworldly organisms dismembering crew mates, or sleep and hunger deprived individuals attack one another should steer clear, because Penna’s engaging sci-fi drama is grounded in reality.
Headlined by Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim, and Shamier Anderson, “Stowaway” doesn’t uproot the claustrophobic sci-fi genre, but it does keep things real on a human level as the morals and ethics of a three person crew are pitted against one another. Together, Kendrick, Collete and Kim play a squad of pure-bred NASA-like engineers trained and perfected for their mission to Mars in which they’ll create a sustainable living environment and report their findings. Collete is the trio’s commander Marina, while Kim’s David and Kendrick’s Zoe tackle the botanist and medical duties respectively. David’s research is particularly vital to the sustainability of the crew’s mission, as the natural creation of oxygen, thanks to his plants, are key to their eventual success.
All the carefully curated planning is undone when Anderson’s Michael is found stored in the ceiling tiles. Nobody knows how or why he got there (or noticed the weight was a tad off during launch) but his presence creates friction, especially when the ship’s carbon dioxide filter is destroyed, leaving all on board at a dire crossroad: There’s only enough oxygen for three people to make the hike to Mars. Michael is the obvious sacrificial lamb in this situation, but Zoe is determined to find a solution that keeps everyone alive, but each day the clock is ticking and precious resources are getting wasted. Of course, the crew’s corporate overlords offer no solution, and they’re moving too fast for a supply drop.
Though Penna doesn’t lean into the shifting dynamics of the crew - especially as it becomes clear its Zoe and Michael vs. Marina and David - as much as you’d like, “Stowaway” never loses its sense or urgency. In fact, it shows the value of teamwork and a climatic, thrilling last-ditch effort to save the crew rivals that of another Netflix space odyssey “The Midnight Sky” though the George Clooney directed drama had a slightly bigger budget, but “Stowaway” has believable characters. The performances are solid, especially Anderson who is caught between a literal rock and a hard place. Watching him contemplate suicide in order to salvage the trio’s mission is gut-wrenching. There’s something to be said, too, about the lone Black man being singled out for slaughter, a metaphor Penna doesn’t lose on the audience.
What could have been another ditzy, ill-fated sci-fi odyssey, instead comes away with a sense of purpose and understanding. Visual effects artist Jakob Balicki does solid work in the film’s latter half alongside Ryan Morrison’s tight editing to overcome the picture’s underdeveloped mechanics - we learn nothing about the main characters aside from brief tidbits - “Stowaway” is an easily digestible drama that should play well for late night audiences looking for light entertainment that’ll challenge them to use their brains moderately.
STOWAWAY is now streaming on Netflix