Well, here we are, on the other side of Oscars weekend, and I couldn’t be more baffled by what went down on Sunday night. I’m not talking about Anthony Hopkins’ shock Best Actor win over Chadwick Boseman (an upset that I actually think was more than deserved), I’m talking about the handful of production decisions that transpired to make Hollywood’s showpiece evening a completely joyless affair. No movie clips to celebrate nominees, countless rambling presenter monologues that got more pretentious and self important by the minute. It was an absolute ordeal of a show despite Chloé Zhao’s amazing history making, so to try to wash the vibes of the ceremony from my mind, I dived into one of Netflix’s newest features to help me escape. Yes, I’ve had to go into literal space to recover.
Directed by Joe Penna, Stowaway tells the story of a three man crew who embark on a two year mission Mars, ship commander Marina Bennett (Toni Collette), biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and medical researcher (Zoe Levensen) Anna Kendrick. After a succesful launch, the crew discover an injured and accidental stowaway, technician Michael (Shamier Anderson), and after his discovery leads to a damaged machinery, the crew are faced with the impossible prospect of having four people on board with only enough oxygen for three.
To the film’s credit, this essential set up of the story is established very quickly and very efficiently, I’ve seen some criticism of Stowaway’s slow place, but I can’t say that I felt a drag at all. In general, this is a neat little sci-fi movie that starts of very detail oriented à la The Martian, but its attempt to cross over into something a bit grander and shinier in a more Gravity-esque final act leaves it a little bit flat right at the death. For a film that literally nobody is talking about, it looks and feels expensive, which is always a plus. When the time for big action comes, you can tell that we’re not working with blockbuster budgets here, but I had no complaints with the visuals at all.
In a weird way, Stowaway is almost caught between two genres. On one hand, it’s an examination of the human condition, the ways that we react in crisis, and the concept of having to make impossible decisions in impossible situations. On the other hand, it’s a space movie that wants to show us some cool anti gravity, solar flare, science experiment stuff at the same time. Personally, I think that the former is the stronger element of the movie. It could have been set on a boat in the ocean that was slowly sinking, in a panic room in a house that was slowly running out of oxygen, and the central emotions would have been the same. The added setting of a spaceship adds some shiny flare and cool visuals, but at its heart Stowaway is more a movie about human sacrifice and emotion than an Apollo 13 style splashy space film. It’s lowkey, but I liked it.
The success of the somewhat unconventional casting actually turns out to be one of Stowaway’s biggest assets. The likes of Toni Collette and Anna Kendrick wouldn’t necessarily be first in my mind when thinking about a ‘space adventure’, but they are both great, the entire cast is great, in fact. All four of them!
As ship commander Marina Bennett, Collette is the authority on board, and she does a really good job of being the pragmatist in charge whilst also letting an emotional side through that draws a lot of empathy from the audience. This kind of role can so easily go in the direction of a character always choosing orders over common sense, but Collette’s Marina is a good balance between her responsibilities and her humanity.
As David Kim, Daniel Dae Kim comes as close as the film has to a ‘villain’ on board, but even his most questionable actions can be seen as natural acts in a time of extreme danger and crisis. Kim’s dedication to his work and initial reticence to follow strict orders come across as completely understandable, and as a character, David Kim comes around very quickly to the larger picture.
Anna Kendrick is very much the ‘lead’ in the film, with medical researcher Zoe Levenson being the character with the fiercest moral compass in this crazy situation. Kendrick has a really endearing natural charisma that works brilliantly in the role, and though I’m not sure she is quite as believable as a space walking, hour saving hero in the action scenes, neither was Sandra Bullock in Gravity and nobody cared then!
The fourth and final member of this small but impressive cast is Shamier Anderson as titular stowaway Michael. Anderson’s express mission within the narrative is to be so likeable that the looming decision of his future fate becomes something that the audience is truly invested in, and he does that job excellently.
Overall, Stowaway isn’t a film that is going to go on and be remembered as something special, but it is a neat little sci-fi drama that prioritises emotion and human connection over bombastic space action, and sometimes that just the kind of think I’m in the mood for. I can’t vouch for the scientific accuracy of the plot, because I simply don’t know, and frankly, I’m not that bothered either! Right now, I’ll take anything that isn’t set up inside Los Angeles’ Union Station.