Every few years dramatic space survivalist films come along and dazzle audiences with quasi-realistic dilemmas that force characters to make difficult decisions. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock fought for their lives in the groundbreaking Gravity back in 2013, before Matt Damon found himself stranded on Mars in 2015’s The Martian. Then came Brad Pitt’s Ad Astra, Clooney’s The Midnight Sky, and now we have the Netflix-released Stowaway, starring Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim and Shamir Anderson.
The film chronicles a three-person research mission to Mars. It is a two-year voyage during which time they research harvesting algae in order to establish an organic oxygen resource at a facility on Mars. The mission is jeopardised twelve hours after launch, when a man is discovered unconscious inside a crawlspace with – no option to abort and return home. The man is an engineer and employee of the space program, and presumedly became trapped by accident. It soon becomes apparent that drastic measures must be taken to enable the now larger crew to survive the journey, and sacrifices are inevitable.
To reveal any more of the plot would be to spoil its most fundamental key points; what’s left to say is that Stowaway is a thought-provoking take on what is otherwise a classic and formulaic genre. What sets it apart from similarly themed films is its calmness. The story unfolds with composure and is in no rush to reach its conclusion. I will assume much of the science within the film to be true, albeit simplified for dramatic purpose, and with that understanding comes more depth and texture to the pending threat. Situations are discussed rationally, and decisions are made with calculation and authority. Each character has purpose and director/co-writer Joe Penna (who previously had Mads Mikkelsen in danger in 2018 survival picture Arctic) is more interested in exploring logic than he is about reaching cinematic touchstones and leaning into audience expectations. And for this, he gives his film sincerity and integrity.
Toni Collette plays the crew leader on her final assignment, having successfully previously commanded similar missions. With her Aussie accent intact, she serves up another strong performance that continues to showcase her ever-impressive emotional range. Of the dilemmas faced during the voyage, one particularly moral proposition informs much of the story, and her turn as the senior officer is both stoic and heroic. Collette ranks amongst the greatest actresses of her generation, and it’s further proven here; a performance that helps elevate Stowaway above whatever shortcomings it may have.
Daniel Dae Kim as the mission’s botanist, whose research is the most valuable to their survival, is also excellent, submitting an unexpectedly subdued turn. As previously mentioned with the film’s overall tranquillity, his character’s personality meets the tone of the environment. Meanwhile, Shamir Anderson, as the titular character, presents a relatable and sympathetic performance as a man who finds himself in deep space without the qualification or training to undertake any of the tasks before him. Anderson is also very good and gives the film much of its humanity.
It is Anna Kendrick, however, who really commands the story. She plays the selfless medical officer whose morality amidst adversity and desperation is unwavering. It is a terrific performance that shepherds the story to its conclusion and ultimately keeps the film at bay and away from cliched Hollywood obligations. It is perhaps the best performance of her career and one that deserves gratitude.
It is not a perfect film by any measure, and questions could be asked of the plausibility of their living conditions within the spacecraft. We could also pick apart the logistics and various simplicities of their duties, but to do so is beside the point. The film is set at a nonspecific time in the future – and I am happy to run with that as an answer to silly nitpicking. What I would hope people take away from Stowaway is the fortitude and manner in which the narrative unfolds. It is an engaging and thoughtful dramatic thriller told with conference and a refusal to conform.
‘Stowaway’ is now streaming on Netflix and can be seen right HERE.