There are no aliens, no secret attacks, no mutinies in "Stowaway." The entirety of the film is presented as a moral dilemma, the kind of situation a group of college psychiatric students might try to work through over the course of a semester.
It's small in scale despite taking place mostly in the outer reaches of space, but "Stowaway" carries with it both some dead weight and some unexpected surprises.
It's business as usual at the beginning of "Stowaway." A three-person manned mission to Mars is about to launch, with Captain Barnett (Toni Collette), scientific officer David Kim (Daniel Dae Lewis) and medical doctor Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) ready to take flight. All systems are go, and despite a small glitch that turns out to be nothing that Control is worried about, the shuttle begins its ascent and its two-year round-trip voyage.
That "glitch" however, turns out to be a bit more problematic than it was first thought. Turns out the weight of the shuttle was off because there was an extra body on-board, a technician, Michael (Shamier Anderson) who was knocked unconscious and found alive, but not until the mission was well under way.
They greet Michael with shock, but with open arms, and they quickly put him to work as a necessary member of the crew. But here is the dilemma: It is discovered that there is only so much oxygen aboard the vessel. Only three will survive the trip...so which one of them should be the one to sacrifice themselves for the good of the crew, and for mankind's exploration of Mars?
There is a minimalist feel to the movie...it appears that most of it might have been shot on a sound stage in front of a massive green-screen. A late-film attempt to reach some additional oxygen storage outside of the ship creates the movie's only real attempt at action or suspense in the traditional sense, and the most just seems to unfold organically among the shuttle's inhabitants. There is panic, sadness, motivation and love. The characters are given just enough depth to prevent them from becoming clichés, and there are no easy answers to the problems they face.
Woven within this drama-filled premise though, are some manipulations, the kind that today's astute movie-watchers will most definitely pick up on. The score, for one, swells right on cue when the filmmaker wants us to feel something...thanks but no thanks, I'll feel stuff on my own. The character of Michael is created to be sympathetic, given a backstory that is meant to make you shed a few tears, but it would have been even more interesting had he been an asshole of some kind. Personality quirks would have had no bearing on the solution they're seeking, and might have added an additional layer or two of humanity. Instead, all four characters are goody-two-shoe saints, which might leave some more cynical viewers to wish that they'd all just go take a long nap.
Even still, "Stowaway" manages to feel fresh given that the evil is inside the ship and that it isn't really evil at all...a real rarity for a genre that usually relies heavily on special effects and thrills. It's well-acted and challenges the viewer to think, just maybe not as hard as we could have, had they trusted us more.
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 56 minutes.
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson.
Co-Written and Directed by Joe Penna ("Arctic").
"Stowaway" is available on Netflix on Thursday, April 22nd, 2021.
Looking for a specific movie or review?