REVIEW: ‘Stowaway’ is Space Survival Done Right

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Stowaway

Although there is no cosmic monstrosity hunting our protagonists ala Alien or 2017’s Life, Stowaway does a lot more than expected with less and remains equally as suspenseful and thrilling. A terrific and compelling space thriller, Joe Penna’s latest directorial offering, in collaboration with writer Ryan Morrison, Stowaway strips everything down and gives us a moral quandary that might leave some frustrated but otherwise thrilled all the same.

Stowaway is the best kind of survivalist film. It is a survivalist film set in space, an unforgiving vacuum of unpredictability and Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison made sure to ratchet up the tension when it counts. When a three-person crew on a mission to Mars finds out that an unplanned passenger is onboard, it forces the team to rethink and restrategize their mission as their lives hang in the balance. It’s a great set-up, and we have a competent cast to boot.

Toni Collette plays Commander Barnette, a stoic yet compassionate leader on her third tour, and plans this mission to be her last. Anna Kendrick plays the plucky and good-doer Zoe Levenson, a doctor who is just as impressed with the cosmos as we are. Daniel Dae Kim plays David Kim, the ship’s botanist who probably cares more about the mission than anyone else. Of course, we have Shamier Anderson playing our titular Stowaway Michael; for all intents and purposes, our poor bastard.

Stowaway’s main plot is a moral one; what do we do with Michael now that the ship has already taken off? The film doesn’t surprise you with twists or gimmicks; the primary source of the undeniable tension comes from our characters dealing with this moral issue. The movie also smartly toys with the faint idea that perhaps Michael may be a threat to the crew but quickly resets course while still maintaining a palpable sense of dread throughout.

While some might find Stowaway a bit lacking in story and moment-to-moment thrills, what kept me entertained throughout was the simplicity of it all. Running just under two hours, Stowaway is a lean and anxious ride that gets to the point quickly and hardly ever deviates. Unlike 2013’s bland space epic Gravity, Stowaway is much more thoughtful and doesn’t rely on spectacle to keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Shamier Anderson does an excellent job of portraying bewilderment and bashfulness; he’s pretty charming and has perfect chemistry with Daniel Kim and Anna Kendrick. Some of the best moments in the film happen in his interactions with Daniel Kim and Anna Kendrick, with one scene, in particular, involving a critical decision that felt devastating but also realistic. Toni Collette is excellent as always; although she is underused in this, her scenes with Daniel Kim are just gripping.

Stowaway isn’t without its faults though, by the time the third act starts to rumble, you can already foretell what might happen. It becomes highly predictable towards the end, and there’s one scene that — although fraught with tension — came off as a bit hokey and contrived, and you can instantly tell where the writing was starting to lose steam. The ending is also a bit safe and abrupt; it almost feels like Joe Penna’s budget got cut just as things were getting interesting.

I can see the nebulous appeal of the film’s ending for some, but for me, it lacked the punch it needed to stick the landing. Stowaway’s brief runtime also means we barely get to know who these characters are, so the emotional impact isn’t quite there once things start to get real. There’s more characterization in Shamier Anderson’s character than anyone else, and so the movie feels unbalanced at times. It’s not that the characters are poorly written; we just don’t spend enough time with them to invest.

Stowaway is not complex, nor is it trying to be, but if you’re looking for a quick distraction that’ll leave your palms sweaty and your heart racing, then this is well worth your time. There are some jaw-dropping sequences in this, but also a bit of half-baked character work mixed in there as well; ultimately, a good sci-fi movie should entertain, and this one does it in spades. 

Stowaway is available now, streaming on Netflix.

Stowaway
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Stowaway is not complex, nor is it trying to be, but if you’re looking for a quick distraction that’ll leave your palms sweaty and your heart racing, then this is well worth your time. There are some jaw-dropping sequences in this, but also a bit of half-baked character work mixed in there as well; ultimately, a good sci-fi movie should entertain, and this one does it in spades.