TL;DR – A film that understands the weight of the question it asks and the damage that would do to people.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid for the Netflix subscription that viewed this movie
Stowaway Review –
It should come as no surprise to long or short term readers that I love Science Fiction. While the fantastical location of space is an excellent place to set your film, and I enjoy them no matter how they come. What can make a film special is when they use that setting to ponder important questions about the human condition. Today we have a look at a film that delves into crucial Kobayashi Maru territory.
So to set the scene, we open in as the Hyperion mission on MTS42 is about to launch. Mission commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette) is setting the ship on a course for a two-year mission out to Mars and back. Along for the mission is Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick), a medical researcher and David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), the ship’s biologist. You feel the rumble of engines, the shake that makes you think the very ship will through itself apart, but then you break free into the void. Once connected with the main module, they begin the long trip to Mars. However, this is a mission with supplies for three people, but as the title implies, someone else made the journey into orbit.
The first thing about Stowaway that draws you in is the apparent vagueness of the titular stowaway Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson). Is he here accidentally, or is he here maliciously? If it is the first, then the causality of everything that follows is not his fault. However, if it is a later, his selfishness put everyone’s lives in danger. Is his cheerfulness just a cover for processing the risk he is in, or is it from an insane plan that worked? This creates a conflict in the minds of the crew and the audience, making all the complexity that follows work.
One of the strengths of this film is the production. The Hyperion module’s creation is both futuristic and grounded enough that it feels like it could be real. This is helped by a lot of the sets being built in the one location, giving you these wonderful scenes as people move from location to location. All of this is escalated, in the third act, which I can’t talk about due to spoilers, but goodness respect to the camera work here. We also see that in the music, that can be both wistful but also damning. That last shot of Earth should be a moment of beauty, but the score makes it feel ominous, as they are moving away for any chance of help.
This is a film where there are only four characters that we interact with, and it has been designed that way. Whenever they are talking to Earth, it is only through the earpieces. There are no faces. In fact, you rarely hear more than a muffle of the voices. What this does is frame all the narrative inwards, creating an extra level of pressure on those, especially as Earth sits there so close yet so desperately far away.
Because it is just the four characters, it makes every interaction important, especially given the gravity of the choice they have to make, making it a difficult job for each of the actors to carry that weight in every moment of the film where there is nowhere to hide. An excellent example of this Toni Collette. When the realisation of just what they would have to do stuck her, you could feel that pain radiates throughout her body as she tried to process the enormity of what the character was being asked. Given the realities and difficulties they were facing, I am glad that all the actors went there.
In the end, do we recommend Stowaway? Yes, yes, we do. This film understood the emotional weight it was dealing with and respected that, including how different characters would react differently. There are moments of genuine tension that had my heart pounding, which only works because you care for every person on board. If you liked Stowaway, I would also recommend to you The Martian.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Stowaway
Directed by – Joe Penna
Written by – Joe Penna & Ryan Morrison
Music by – Hauschka
Cinematography by – Klemens Becker
Edited by – Ryan Morrison
Production/Distribution Companies – Augenschein Filmproduktion, Rise Pictures, XYZ Films, Rainmaker Films & Netflix
Starring – Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim & Shamier Anderson
Rating – Australia: M;