by Kevin Muller
As a genre, films that take place in outer space can go down many different paths. Unlike most of big budget films, director Joe Penna’s Stowaway, takes a more intimate approach with a cast of four very capable actors being the only ones on screen for the close to two hour run time. The final product is an admirable story that its slow, but interesting nature, may turn off at few.
Established scientists David Kim and Zoe Levenson, both under the command of Marina Barnett, have survived the launch into space to start their two-year mission to Mars. Everything seems to be running smoothly, until there is a discovery of a mysterious stowaway named Michael, who is a launch support engineer that passed out, before launch, during a routine check of the inner workings of ship. The problem comes with the destruction of a device that rids the carbon dioxide from inside the ship. The team tries to find solutions to the problem without having to resort to the worst-case scenario. That scenario acts as the morality of the film as time is quickly running out.
The strongest aspect of this film are the performances that sell the moral dilemma. For a film that runs close to two hours, and it takes its time, the actors engage us into the drama. Michael, who is played by Shamier Anderson, is not written as a villain or evil force, but just a good man thrown into a horrible circumstance. Anderson rightfully plays into this goodness to make the impending doom even more tragic. As Barnett, the ever so reliable, Toni Collette, creates a very sympathetic commander who desperately tries to find ways for the four to survive, but also understands that certain decisions have got to be made. As the only male on the ship, who bonds with Michael, Dave, played by Hawaii 5-0 actor Daniel Dae Kim, is a nice match to give some brotherly love to him. Dave helps slow down the clock with his expertise in dealing with algae. Even though the film contains very consoling characters, the one who is by the most compassionate is Anna Kendrick’s Zoe. As the medical expert of the crew, her empathy skyrockets for Michael. Kendrick, who is an actress who can be sarcastic and vulnerable all at once, propels the latter trait forward here. She does get a chance to have playful banter with Kim, earlier in the film, that adds a bit of lightness to an overall emotionally drab picture.
The film’s stagnant nature is in result of Penna’s desire to stay true to the science in the film. This is a decision that will elevate it for some but will make general audiences check their watches. Netflix is known for letting their directors keep their visions and Penna seems to have that honor. Many of these scenes are explaining the detail of what they are doing in a very convincing way. It does not feel like most science fiction films where the details are an afterthought. To say true to the science, Penna recruited the help and expertise of Scott Manley, who is a You-Tube personality with an apt scientific mind. The film does pick up speed during the climax of the film, which is a beautifully staged set piece that is both thrilling and exciting. It does take its time getting there, but the emotional stakes are felt due to the time Penna spends connecting us to these characters and their scientific pickle.
Stowaway is a respectable and well-made film, with solid performances from an intimate cast of great actors. It never sacrifices its wit or intelligence for its audience that may be bothered by its attention to detail and story.
I am giving Stowaway a 3.5 out of 5 Hairpieces!