Thursday 22 April 2021

Stowaway (Movie Review)

My fascination with space and movies dealing with its exploration dates back to early childhood. From sci-fi classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey to historical dramas like Apollo 13, I've always loved watching the exploits of brave men and women journeying to the stars. That love had reached a crescendo when Gravity was released in 2013, a film that went on to become my favorite movie that year. So of course I was going to check out Stowaway, on the strength of its premise alone.

In Stowaway, three astronauts are on a two-year voyage to Mars. The crew is made up of Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), the commander of their ship, the MTS-42, as well as Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick), a medical researcher, and David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), the ship's biologists. Following a successful launch, the three slowly start to settle into the routines that would govern the many months it would take them to get to Mars.

But they soon find themselves having to alter those routines, when they discover that a fourth person (Shamier Anderson) had managed to stow away on their ship. Things are further complicated by the fact that they'd sustained some damage to their life support system, the implication being that they only have enough oxygen left for three people. Now the crew must decide on how best to handle the situation, or risk jeopardizing the entire mission.

From the very first frames of Stowaway, it became readily apparent that its filmmakers were working within some tight constraints. This is in itself not a red flag per se, especially in a single location film with only 4 principal actors. The cinematography helped to heighten the limited scope, which contributed to that feeling of claustrophobia. For example, the decision to keep the camera tightly focused on the faces of the crew members during its opening launch sequence, rather than show exterior shots of the ship, immediately puts those characters front and center.

So in other words, the movie was always meant to be more psychological and character-focused. And in terms of capturing what it is like for these characters to be stuck together on this voyage, it does a decent job. The performances in the film were also decent, with all four actors doing the best they could with the limited material at hand. The overall hook was intriguing as well, in a way that sci-fi thrillers like Gravity tend to be.

But where the movie seemed to fall down flat was in the way it didn't really do anything interesting with its premise. There were so many things I'd expected to see during the course of the film, and so many destinations it could have arrived at. The filmmakers instead take us on an underwhelming journey towards an ending where they try to tug at the heartstrings, but I was just too busy rolling my eyes at that point to shed a tear. Not to spoil anything, but anyone hoping for something similar to Sandra Bullock's triumphant first steps at the end of Gravity would be sorely disappointed.

Stowaway manages to squander its rather intriguing premise with a highly unsatisfying conclusion. That it also left some important plot threads unexplained is simply unforgivable in a film where hardly anything happens. The film drags for much of its runtime, and I found myself almost tempted to watch it at 1.5x speed just to counteract this. But if you have the patience and are already on the hunt for something new to watch on Netflix, then it is at least worth checking out.


  1. There are so many great movies out there to watch now, I think I'll pass on one with a slow pace and little payoff.