A three-person crew. A two-year mission. A single, devastating revelation. These are the basic ingredients of Joe Penna’s Stowaway, new to Netflix this week. On paper, it should work: in the vein of sci-fac (science fact, as opposed to science fiction) movies like Gravity and The Martian, it aims to tell a human story set against the backdrop of space. It has one of the best four-person casts perhaps ever assembled on film (that of Toni Collette, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, and Shamier Anderson), all of whom are on top form, and it’s one of the most realistic sci-fac films since the aforementioned Gravity. But there’s a great big gaping hole at its centre that almost derails the entire movie. Almost.
The good stuff first, though, because there’s plenty of it. The performances, as mentioned, are incredible. Kendrick in particular is clearly out to impress, and has no trouble succeeding: her dramatic role here may be a slight surprise given her tendency for comedic leads, but she’s in her element. Scientist Zoe is sweet and funny, always keeping the crew’s best interests in mind – even when those interests are at odds with the mission itself.
Collette, Kim, and Anderson back her up beautifully. The central trio, which excludes Anderson as the titular stowaway, are instantly engaging and believable. It’s a testament to the acting power of all three that they work equally well as individuals, as pairs, or as the full group. They’re charming and playful, but never smarmy or mean – in short, they’re the perfect little group for a movie like this.
It’s also worth saying that Stowaway looks, feels, and sounds incredible. Though it’s lighter on set-pieces than something like Gravity or even Interstellar, the ones that we do get are wonderfully tense. To get into too much detail would be to divulge unnecessary spoilers, and this is a film best seen with as little prior knowledge as possible, but their small scale in comparison to other space movies does them no harm: they pack just as much punch as their bigger counterparts.
Aesthetically, this is a gorgeous piece of work. Klemens Becker’s cinematography is always on point; whether it’s in the cramped spaces of the ship or out in the black void, his eye is perfect for keeping us engaged. Hauschka’s score is yet another winner for the Ammonite and The Old Guard composer: it’s soft and slow, there when it needs to be and never overbearing until it swells beautifully in the film’s final minutes to truly solidify the emotional impact of the ending.
With all this in mind, it’s even more of a shame that the hole at the middle of it threatens to rip it apart. There’s no getting around it, either: it’s something that simply doesn’t make sense. Namely, how the hell is Michael onboard the shuttle in the first place? He’s found stowed away in a cupboard, injured and unconscious, with no clue how he got there. How did he get there? He didn’t do it on purpose, so did someone put him there? If he was put there, who was he put there by, and how come no one from the Hyperion ground team found him when the ship was being checked before lift-off? This isn’t to take away from Anderson’s performance, which is exceptional, but it’s so hard to be completely on board with the rest of the film when there’s such a huge hole in its central premise.
And really, that’s the only thing that holds Stowaway down. It’s such a shame, because the rest of it is so good and feels so fresh and interesting – with a little more effort put into the premise, this could have been something really special. As it stands it’s still more than worth a watch for the electric performances alone, but this one issue stops it from flying as high as it could have.