Stowaway (2021)

“We didn’t make mistakes like this.”

Featuring a quick, effective open that introduces us to this world with a great deal of authenticity, Stowaway proves to be one of the rare modern sci-fi vehicles that earns its initial sense of intrigue. We’re interested to see where it will go, whether it’s destined to be a spacy thriller or an intimate personal drama. And while it practically sounds like poor parody to say that this one doesn’t necessarily stick the landing, that’s still exactly what happens. Stowaway examines the human condition in the great black void until it ultimately opts for soap opera clichés and happenstance over organic, believable interactions and catastrophes. What’s pretty good could’ve bordered on great.

Launch goes off with only a slight hitch for MTS-42 on their mission to Mars. Captained by Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), the remaining accounted for passengers are biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick). It’s a small operation, a chamber piece contained to the sprawling yet claustrophobic halls of the spaceship. It’s never really clear what they’re meant to be doing, nor is the film’s big twist – the unintentional stowaway Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) – explained to the point that we fully understand how he got there. All we know is that this trio wasn’t looking to become a quartet, and that it might even prove deadly.

There’s a lot going for the movie in its middle portion, largely in part due to the writing and the performance from Anderson, who I’m not sure I’ve ever seen act before. He genuinely seems shocked to wake up in space, but the more we get to know his backstory and learn he hopes to be an astronaut himself one day, we soon begin to question his motives. Did he do this on purpose? Was it an honest mistake? Following the path of ambiguity would’ve served the film better. Yet the third act makes decisions that completely rule out the questions without providing any answers either, getting lost in itself along the way before it just ends. The movie feels like a clashing blend of arthouse storytelling and big budget filmmaking towards that never completely blends together as one.

I will say that this four piece suit doesn’t have a bad performance under its belt, and that I was surprised by how well cast Anna Kendrick was as a character who looks and sounds like an adult who obsessed over space camp as a kid. She’s every bit as good here as the rest of the crew are. And even though the script operates too according to Murphy’s Law, making everything that can go wrong eventually go wrong at the worst possible moment, it’s still an undeniably well crafted film. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it lands an Visual Effects Oscar nomination despite its budget, and the cinematography by Klemens Becker is the kind of labyrinthian work that’ll be overlooked because it’s so well done, so smooth and visually accessible. At the end of the day I’m still not sure writer/director Joe Penna steered Stowaway in the right direction, but at least he didn’t send this one’s potential completely out of orbit. The craft is better than the coordinates.

“That’s what I like about it.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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