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PLOT: On a mission to Mars, a space crew finds that they have a STOWAWAY on board their ship. This unexpected guest brings along with him a few major problems for the small ship and those on board.
REVIEW: When you collect a group of very talented performers that include Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim, and Shamier Anderson, you’re already in a good place. Writer/director Joe Penna offers us this, as well as an intriguing take on a science fiction-based story. Stowaway is a fascinating idea. Presented as a human drama that takes place during a mission to Mars, there’s much that could push that element to unique heights. Instead of an action-packed feature, the new film is far more cerebral in the way it examines how we deal with impossible situations. With good performances and a few inspired shots, however, something is lacking in this Netflix thriller.
While on a mission to the planet Mars, Marina Barnett (Collette), Zoe Levenson (Kendrick), and David Kim (Kim) discover that someone else is on board their craft. Twelve hours after their take-off, they find that another man is on the small space shuttle. When they take in Michael Adams (Anderson), he is injured and his presence brings more questions than answers. Along with the questions, Adams also makes things problematic with the limited oxygen available. As they progress closer to their destination, they realize that a very difficult choice must be made. It is one their survival depends on.
Cerebral science fiction is usually quite fascinating. And while the idea of what human beings will do when under serious pressure can be exciting, the script for Stowaway is only mildly successful when it comes to raising the stakes. Instead of creating a tense environment, the first half of the film is mildly interesting but occasionally dull. Much of what happens depends on the problems that arise from their unexpected guest, and even then it takes much too long to explore his character in connection to the others. And when the obvious conflict finally does arrive, it is handled in an unimpressive and lumbering way. Considering this is the main source of drama, it doesn’t help the slow pace.
The cast involved attempts to bring a bit of heart to the drama. Yet it is Toni Collette – in her native dialect – and Shamier Anderson bringing the most impressive emotional arc. Even still, you never really get a sense of who these people are. Aside from Kendricks’ Zoe and Anderson’s Adams, we don’t learn anything especially moving about them. It’s hard not to just see the actors in spacesuits playing the required roles and attempting to hit the right beats. All four actors do fine work, but the lackadaisical feel of the story and how it moves forward keep the audience at a distance. One of the strangest choices is that we hear only a one-sided conversation when the crew is dealing with the support they’ve left behind on Earth. It was a bit distracting to listen to only part of the information given.
As far as the look of the film, it’s clear that the budget is limited. That said, the design of the ship and the impressive outer space images did help. The intimate space ship setting worked well, as did much of the camerawork from Penna and cinematographer Klemens Becker. Also, the story brought its fair share of profound ideas about human nature. It appeared that the influence of films like Gravity and Moon helped build this dramatic thriller, yet this isn’t quite able to reach the heights of either of those powerful features. Even still, it’s hard to not appreciate the thought behind what is presented here.
Stowaway isn’t a bad film by any stretch. There are a few moments that bring a sense of wonder and engagement, but as a whole, it’s too often too dull an experience. As much as appreciate the work of Anna Kendrick, it’s not a role that stands out in any real way. As mentioned, the best work came from both Toni Collette and Shamier Anderson, both of whom embrace the emotional frustrations that each one is going through. There’s nothing wrong with a slow burn of a movie. Unfortunately, this is a slow burn without much of a satisfying conclusion. Currently, this film is available on Netflix (and Amazon Prime internationally). And while many may find the same issues as stated here, others may appreciate the moody thriller. Either way, it may at least be worth a look, even if this trip to Mars ultimately disappoints.