Stowaway strives for hard science fiction realism but ends up a bit of a drag. There are good movies about people floating in space in dire circumstances like The Martian, Gravity, Apollo 13, Ad Astra or even The Midnight Sky but this isn’t one. A decent cast is assembled and the central moral conundrum shows how resource management can be deadly in the vacuum of space. But with not enough satisfying explanation as to how the titular stowaway stowed away, and way too many long silent shots of corridors in a movie that really could have been done and dusted in 90 minutes, this is a missed Mars shot.
Three astronauts, Commander Barnett (Toni Collette), Zoe (Anna Kendrick) and David (Daniel Dae Kim), are travelling to Mars on a rocket ship but surprisingly they find another person, Michael (Shamier Anderson), has stowed away on their ride. This is bad since the two-year spaceflight to Mars only has enough oxygen for three people. David tries to grow plants as fast as possible to generate more oxygen even if it means destroying his research opportunity on Mars, while Zoe tries to calm Michael down. Worst of all, Barnett is receiving communications from the higher ups telling her that there’s no way they will survive if Michael keeps breathing their air. The only desperate way to achieve enough oxygen would be a risky space walk to their launch tank but that may lead to doom.
Stowaway is attempting space travel realism, however that is kind of out the door with artificial gravity. The concept of artificial gravity in space has been around for a long time in sci-fi mostly so it can save on budgets by not stringing the actors up on wires. But artificial gravity isn’t practical. The notion of realism and sci-fi silliness comes to a head in the climatic spacewalk scene in Stowaway where characters are dropping objects off the side where the ship is generating gravity. However, it just dumb that gravity works in space to artificially inflate drama. The movie is trying to increase tension by having gravity be an obstacle, but it bumps up against the realism of space travel.
Kendrick is always likeable even if this is one of her few roles where she doesn’t burst out into song but considering how dour the film is maybe it could have used it. When they first start on their ship, she seems rather ecstatic that they are on their journey. It’s kind of typical casting to have Kendrick play the humanist on the crew but it works. She has a few scenes where she talks passionately with Michael about how important it is they all survive. One of her better reactions is when Barnett and David are doing the math about how they can’t all survive with Michael breathing and Zoe asks aghast if they’re going to ask him to walk out an airlock.
Collette as the Commander looks stern and makes hard decisions which she does convincingly. Also, Collette is using her natural Australian accent for once in a role which she rarely does. There’re various interminable shots of her sitting and staring, apparently meant to convey the burden of command but she just looks sleepy. Kim plays a scientist nerd, spending most of his time talking about how important the plants are to his life’s research and when he has to tear the plants apart so they have more oxygen he looks genuinely depressed.
Anderson as Michael is a bit of a letdown. Really irritatingly, it is never quite properly explained how or why he got on the ship, he just says he was a tech and somehow ended up there which is really unsatisfying. This is annoying because the title of the movie is freakin’ Stowaway so there should be a more dramatic explanation instead of mumbling and hand-waving the reason away. Once awakened, he says a lot of said things about missing his sister and looks perplexed about having to take a lethal injection. He might as well be carrying a flashing sign that says “feel sorry for me, please don’t let me die” to generate sympathy.
Things pick up in the finale for the big spacewalk. Stowaway never achieves the propulsion of something like Gravity but has its moments. When the two crew members make it to the oxygen supply, it is a remarkable bit of salvation and then things promptly go from happy to downright horrifying. The actors do their best to sell the dramatic impact of each moment, especially when the astronauts realize what must be done. The final scene is truly powerful and more impactful than the various interminable scenes beforehand of people looking sad about running out of air.
Stowaway stretches out a single resource problem throughout its entire running time and doesn’t quite succeed. There’s a lot of sad muttering and silent pauses but things become dramatically compelling in the third act. It needed just needed something more interesting beforehand because most of the time the audience is being dragged along for the ride.
Director: Joe Penna
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim and Shamier Anderson