Sci-fi “trapped in space” films like Gravity and The Martian have set a high standard for modern stories about interplanetary travel. Stowaway, the new Netflix film from writers Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison, is a different type of tale. The small-scale film pulls together four characters in a confined space that race against a ticking clock element, familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a movie set in space. It remains engaging through a lengthy runtime, but in the end, the conclusion makes it all feel a bit empty.
Stowaway blasts us into space from the exciting opening scene, as Toni Collette’s Marina counts us down to launch. From here, we follow a crew of three (Collette, Anna Kendrick and Daniel Dae-Kim) on board a spaceship set for Mars. Their two year journey has an end goal of maintaining and sustaining life on Mars long-term. All seems to go as planned—that is, until they discover one of the launch support engineers has ended up on board. The trio initially welcomes Michael (Shamier Anderson) as if he were one of their own. However, having four people on board a craft originally only meant for two means air supply is rapidly running low. The group must race to survive a harrowing situation, with humanity’s future resting on the failure or success of this important Mars mission.
Every character is thinly defined by specific traits, and without the strong cast filling the roles, I’m not sure any of them have much depth. Marina is the by-the-book semi-leader; Zoe is the curious, determined and spunky know-it-all; David is the booksmart researcher; and Michael is the mysterious stranger willing to do whatever he can help the mission thrive. Without Toni Collette, Daniel Dae-Kim, Anna Kendrick, or Shamier Anderson, the characters are little more than stereotypes. Anna Kendrick’s Zoe is by far the film’s most sympathetic. She has love and compassion for Michael, and is committed to somehow saving him from this impossible situation.
The most disappointing thing about Stowaway is the ending—it feels like minimal effort was put into closing out the film. An emotional beat is a perfectly acceptable way to conclude something. However, after investing time into the natural progression of this story, it should at least follow through on its equally natural conclusion. The script lets down an otherwise great film, from production design, to acting, and the direction from Joe Penna. I found it entertaining, yet ultimately unsatisfying.
Stowaway takes flight to Netflix on Thursday, April 22nd.