Movie Review: Stowaway
Stowaway is about a trio of astronauts on their way to Mars. Their mission is two years and their goal is to do research to try and figure out if there is a possibility of sustaining life on the Red Planet. Yet, there's a hitch in their mission when it's discovered that they have a stowaway who got trapped in the ship when he was doing a repair during prelaunch. Now, the crew has to figure out how they will survive as four on a ship barely meant for three. The film stars Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, and Toni Collette. The film is directed by Joe Penna and is written by Penna and Ryan Morrison. The film is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
Space is a prime location for horror. Like the bottom of the ocean, like the interior of Antartica, there are just so many unknowns, so, so, so, so many things that could go horribly, catastrophically wrong. Yet, the most terrifying thing about space is that the only nature brought into it is human nature, the scariest, most unpredictable nature of all. Rather than psychological or body horror, Stowaway has a strong bent toward philosophical horror.
While we've seen the type of scenes in Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan play out where someone makes the noble sacrifice ("The needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few"). Stowaway is far more calculating. These three trained astronauts have a mission, this one man serves no purpose. Ergo, this one man must cease taking up resources. Of course, then there's the conundrum of emotions. Humans are just full of those emotional responses to rational thoughts that defy logic.
There's a lot of emotion in this film because the question is if humans can be as callous as to throw another human away. There's a great scene that starts this ball rolling toward one possible conclusion. At one point David, the botanist, makes the decision to go against orders and get Michael, the stowaway, to make the logical decision for all of them. As calmly as he can, David explains the situation and passes on a drug that will kill Michael if he injects it. I love that Joe Penna and cinematographer Klemens Becker chose to shoot this scene over David's shoulder so we could see the reaction on Michael's face to this news. We see that anguish and that sudden realization of the horrific reality of their situation.
This scene is followed by a sort of video will that Michael is posting to his sister. He praises each member of the crew even as he holds the physical nature of the syringe next to him. In his superlatives the scene cuts to each of the crew members contemplating their current situation. This is a great melding of editing and cinematography with Becker's shots of Marina, Zoey, and David getting more and more desperate. Ryan Morrison's edits cut into our hearts further as the superlatives Michael hands out are just jabs sticking the knife in further.
Though, Stowaway lacks a strong driving tension. It may be that it could have benefitted from an Ed Harris or a Kyle Chandler running around down in ground control, barking orders and listening to the smartest guys in the room come up with potential solutions. It lacks urgency in its scenes, which I understand from a logic stand point because they have finite oxygen and running around would reduce that. Yet, even in the most nail biting scenes of the climax I feel like the film lets us breathe far too easily. We get relief rather than a relentless race. The conclusion itself also seems foregone after a certain point.
I will praise the casting, though. This small ensemble is terrific and I wholly saw them as each of these characters. Anna Kendrick stands out because, while she's done her best to vary her career, she's still felt like she's played the same character over and over again. In Stowaway she seems fresh and confident, the literal smartest, most capable person in this vehicle. She's a driving force and I love that about her character. Kendrick is able to balance the grand emotions of the space drama well and she's the best special effect the film has.
Overall, I don't regret watching Stowaway. I wish they could have trimmed some of the fat, maybe a tighter runtime would have amped up the tension. Yet, I think it's still worth your time to seek out especially if you've enjoyed the other more realistic space films in our current, "Let's be closer to science possible than science fiction," run of cinema.