‘Stowaway’ Review: Lost in Space with Good Actors, Flat Drama
By Daniel Rester
I’m all for a great drama set in space. We’ve been blessed with some epic ones the past few years, including Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014), The Martian (2015), First Man (2018), and Ad Astra (2019). I was hoping Stowaway would join that crowd of recent hits. Unfortunately it’s a case of “in space no one can hear you yawn.”
Stowaway starts out strong enough. It skips the usual launch preparation exposition and drops us straight into the exciting shuttle launch. We’re put in the cockpit with ship commander Marina (Toni Collette), medical researcher Zoe (Anna Kendrick), and biologist David (Daniel Dae Kim) as they set out on a mission to Mars.
Things are going well at first until the three astronauts discover Michael (Shamier Anderson), a launch plan engineer who was knocked unconscious before the take off. The problem is an oxygen filter on the ship has been damaged and there’s only enough air for three people. They are too far from Earth to be able to turn back, yet they will die if the four of them continue on for long on the way to Mars. Do they sacrifice someone? Or can they find an alternative? Decisions, decisions.
That moral dilemma-ripe premise is initially intriguing despite its unbelievable setup (no one knew Michael was gone on Earth?), playing kinda like Lifeboat (1944) or The Cold Equations (1996). The cast is game for it too, though it is a bit hard to buy the bubbly Kendrick as a medical researcher. Kim perhaps comes off best as family man David, who struggles with sacrificing some of his algae in order to try and gain oxygen. He isn’t sure if he wants to destroy his Mars work or just get rid of Michael.
Unfortunately things fizzle out right when the drama should ramp up as the characters face challenges they must solve. Instead the film remains in a slow gear and the challenges feel contrived. Michael isn’t utilized enough despite being the title character and he never really uses his skills despite being an engineer. Hmm, maybe let him try to fix the filter? Plot holes like this are brushed by, as are inaccuracies.
Like why are there not redundant systems on the shuttle like there should be? How is the algae dying off in an atypically fast manner? How can Zoe see color from a solar storm despite no magnetic field being nearby?
I can ignore silly elements if a plot and characters grip me. Stowaway never really did that for me though after the first act. The dialogue and situations are mostly formulaic (of course Zoe has a backstory about saving a drowning victim) and director Joe Penna’s restrained approach feels more tired than admirable. The music score is also all over the place, sometimes dreamlike and sometimes thriller-ish but never tonally fixed. The visuals are at least polished except for a climactic space walk that looks poor.
Stowaway is the kind of film you want to poke with a stick because it won’t get going. Slow films are fine, but boring slow films are not. The premise and cast could have made Stowaway join the recent group of fine space dramas if they were provided solid execution. This shuttle just never takes off.
My Grade: 5.2/10 (letter grade equivalent: C)
Running Time: 1h 56min