Released: 22nd April
Seen: 26th April
Space, the final frontier. A place that very few have ever gone and a perfect location for a film about people stranded in the middle of nowhere. It’s a popular filming location and can be used for high drama (Apollo 11), horror (Alien) or even goofy ass stupidity that is more enjoyable than it has any right to be (Jason X). Of course, sometimes you can go for a high drama and end up somewhere a little closer to stupid but enjoyable… oh, hi Stowaway.
Stowaway is the story of a three person crew on a mission to Mars. There’s ship commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), medical researcher Zoe Levinson (Anna Kendrick) and biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim). Things seem to be going well at first when the crew take off, but soon they discover that a launch plan engineer named Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) somehow didn’t get noticed before takeoff. This creates a small problem as there’s only enough supplies and oxygen on board this rocket for 3 people, leading to the team needing to make a tough decision.
For the most part, Stowaway has got an interesting idea that it uses to tell a compelling story about people having to make a tough decision in an impossible situation… I mean, provided you aren’t silly like me and ask “Why can’t they just turn the ship around and start again?”. Yeah, that would suck and cost the mission 5 years but it’s not like there’s a rush, these people are young and healthy enough and they know from the beginning that there’s a major problem with having 4 people on board.
Then you also gotta ask “Wait, how did this guy end up getting stuck in a wall of the ship with no one noticing… surely that’s literally impossible” but the film never seems to ask that, just invites you to accept that someone could somehow get caught between the interior and exterior walls of a rocket ship with no one noticing that you’re there and THEN survive takeoff without either dying from the heat or causing the ship to explode.
That’s kind of the big problem here, Stowaway is trying to be a smart movie where people make the tough decisions but it doesn’t often take the time to explain why they can’t just do the obvious solutions or why things are as bad as they are. They keep hammering in that this kind of rocket should only really be handling 2 people and that 3 required major modifications including removing a layer of protection (Cos, ya know, Space ships aren’t infamous for blowing up spectacularly for the tiniest reasons, sure it could handle stripping an entire layer off the ship) but never really bother explaining why they only seemed to just barely pack enough for 3 people with no room for error. Again, it happens because we need it too for the story but they could at least justify it a bit better.
HOWEVER, if you push past those two massive roadblocks on the road to willing suspension of disbelief you end up with a pretty good movie about a bunch of very smart people working through a dangerous situation. It has a few moments that are genuinely tense, such as a space walk to go get some liquid oxygen that is almost as perilous as the space walking in Gravity, and every actor is bringing it. I mean, we probably shouldn’t be shocked that Toni Collette is the best one here because she’s usually the best performer in anything she’s involved in but she does manage to anchor this film, and it needed a pretty big anchor.
Stowaway is also just visually stunning. Space movies are generally pretty great at pulling off some gorgeous visuals, the vast emptiness of space is a brilliant canvas for a talented director to work with (there’s a reason why space films keep being nominated for best Visual Effects at the Oscars) and this film looks really goddamn good. There are a few shots right at the end that are so pretty that you almost forget the horror that’s associated with what’s on screen.
Stowaway‘s pacing could definitely use some work though. I don’t know what it is about films in space that seem to really love taking their sweet time, maybe they want the audience to feel like they’re slowly floating through the film just like the characters slowly float through space but it’s not helpful when trying to build tension for scenes to go on so long that it becomes easier to zone out. I’m not saying it needed to be a 90 minute roller coaster, but a little more pace here and there would be lovely.
Stowaway is a film that has a few glaring flaws in it’s setup that you need to push through and it might be a touch longer than it needs to be, but once you do get past those problems there’s an enjoyable movie that’s still got something interesting to offer.