Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Something Something. Its mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before etc etc etc. The lure of space, like the universe itself, is everlasting and our fascination with it and the secrets it holds always compel us to do better, to be better and, like the decades before this one, cinema has tried to bridge the gaps between possibility and reality. Recently, James Gray‘s Ad Astra, George Clooney‘s The Midnight Sky and Alice Winocour‘s Proxima have brought us differing stories of space travel and voyages unknown and now, Stowaway, adds itself to that eclectic line-up but its title might be a little misleading.
A crew of three astronauts (Toni Collette, Daniel Dae-Kim and Anna Kendrick) are on a mission heading to Mars on a two-year research mission that is hoped will help Earth. Hours after take-off and docking with their space station, they discover a stowaway (Shamier Anderson) stuck in one of the vents. Did he intend to be there? Has he been planted on the ship by a corporation? Is he a saboteur? Whatever his motives, good or bad, his presence has led them down a road they never saw coming: the ship was designed for three and his arrival jeopardises everything. Too far gone to get back to Earth in time and too close to Mars to abort, they are faced with an impossible dilemma.
What’s most exciting about Stowaway is the creatives behind it (not discounting the work of its foursome of actors, more on them later), namely director Joe Penna and his co-writer Ryan Morrison, who follow up their wonderful 2018 survival drama Arctic which stars Mad Mikkelsen. Linked by many overarching themes and narrative connections, both share the same dread, fear and overwhelming moments that come with pushing a human – or, in this case, humans – to their breaking point and what they do when they get there. Stowaway isn’t quite as severe as the chilly, unforgiving terrain of the world of the polar bears but there is a through line between them of being in a foreign environment and having to think more carefully and more quickly than you would in your comfort zone. Imagine being faced with the dilemma that the crew are here. The impossible choice, the impossible sacrifice. One life over three, one life over billions.
Beautifully orchestrated by Penna and Morrison, as well as the typically claustrophobic, winding cinematography of Klemens Becker, you feel so much in the room with the quartet as they try to devise their best course of action, all brilliantly played by each of the fine ensemble, with Anna Kendrick excelling. What lets the film down, however, is outside of the environment and their situation, we never really care too much for the characters, we never really feel their motivations, their feelings or their histories and while this is very much a chamber piece of the “here and now“, having more substance and detail would have seen the film jump from the good into the very good.
Drama, Sci-fi | USA/Brazil, 2021 | 15 | Netflix Original | 22nd April 2021 | Dir.Joe Penna | Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, Toni Collette, Anna Kendrick