When you think of space disaster films, you usually expect excitement, awe and suspense. But director Joe Penna’s latest offering aims for something a bit more low-key.
Stowaway follows three astronauts on a voyage to Mar’s who discover an extra passenger has accidentally wound up on their ship. Without enough oxygen for all four of them, they must figure out how to survive. Penna has crafted an enjoyable, quiet-thriller that pulls you into its central moral dilemma with an understated approach.
The film does a solid job of maintaining a grounded feeling throughout the whole plight. From start to finish, each obstacle is just the stuff that can go wrong in space. No saboteur. No Aliens. This isn’t that type of movie. It’s simply about a guy who accidentally stowed-away, and the very practical problems that arise because of it. The explanation of the stowaway situation itself was too implausible and brushed-over for my liking, but the conflict that ensues because of it is interesting enough. Stowaway doesn’t try to overstep its bounds, or shoe-horn in surprises. The story could have been more compelling, but I also appreciated its commitment to remaining modest and simple. The central moral conflict, of not having enough resources for everyone, is familiar. But the movie still manages to keep us interested in the crew’s situation, awaiting their reactions. Seeing them juggle with practical versus emotional solutions was the most interesting part. And the seriousness of the situation always feels present.
With the crew’s dynamics at the forefront, Stowaway does a decent job of giving each of them different motives and responses. Anna Kendrick brings her natural charm and wit to Zoe, the team’s medical researcher. But she also does a wonderful job carrying a lot of the emotional load through her character’s compassion and resilience. Daniel Dae Kim, as David the biologist, is the pragmatist of the lot. And he provides a nice contrast to Zoe, without coming off as callous or unreasonable. Meanwhile, Toni Collette’s great as the commander, but her character was sadly underused, relegated to mostly spewing exposition. Shamier Anderson as Michael the stowaway doesn’t get much to do either. His character is given the typical sympathetic backstory that is meant to make you care for him, but he also doesn’t contribute much to the story, beyond being the extra man. Although, it was refreshing that there was no obvious “bad guy” among the crew, making the central conflict all the more difficult.
The film moves at a steady pace, aptly taking it’s time to unfold the drama. For better and for worse, it never goes the expected route of a survival thriller. Whenever you think there’s going to be a dramatic turn of events or big reveal, the movie pulls back. It constantly keeps its focus on the characters and very practical rationales. This can sometimes be frustrating, when you want the movie to take it up a notch and it simply doesn’t. But Stowaway’s restraint also brings about the uneasy mood that keeps you guessing and unsure. Even the finale’s thrills are more subdued, creating a release that is fitting with the rest of the film.
If you want twists and exhilaration, Stowaway, will leave a lot to be desired. But if you don’t mind a more understated space thriller, then this movie is worth the watch. It’s grounded approach and focus on character, over surprises, makes for an interesting take on a familiar premise.
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