Film & TV

‘Stowaway’ Takes Flight Only to Drift into Barren Land

Photo courtesy of Jurgen Olczyk | NetflixDaniel Dae Kim, Toni Collette and Anna Kendrick star in "Stowaway," Netflix's newest sci-fi thriller.

Director: Joe Penna
Date: April 22

NR | 1 hour 56 minutes

The best thrillers build up suspense as they ramp up momentum for a grand finale. Netflix’s new film “Stowaway” remembered to build the suspense but failed to stick the landing.

Released April 22, the film follows a three-person team on a two-year mission to Mars. When they discover an accidental stowaway after an explosion ensues onboard, newly found camaraderie quickly turns to misery once they learn the explosion has left the ship unable to provide oxygen for the entire crew.

The crew grapples with having to let go of one of their own as they race against time to ensure the rest of the ship survives. 

Written by Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison, and directed by Penna, “Stowaway” is a quieter blockbuster experience. The science fiction thriller utilizes only the primary cast of four and the confined space of the ship to tell its story. 

Penna (“Arctic”) guides the film through his sharp directing. He captures the isolated nature of the ship and the feelings of despair of the crew through his shots. 

The cast is filled with heavy-hitters, Anna Kendrick (“Pitch Perfect,” “Love Life”) breaking out of her comedic comfort zone with her quieter performance. No one captures misery quite as well as Toni Collette (“Knives Out,” “The Sixth Sense”), delivering a crushing performance. 

The film lives and breathes on building empathetic connections to the characters for the viewer. Despite entering a genre full of loud tricks and CGI in place of plot, “Stowaway” attempts to be a genuinely introspective film.

Yet after 116 minutes, the characters remain hollow. Glimpses of personality shine, but the grand nature of the film inhibits the ability to develop the characters. When stowaway Michael (Shamier Anderson) grapples with the knowledge he’ll have to die for the rest of the crew to survive, his reaction is harrowing and purposeful. But moments like these are few and far between.

“Stowaway” loses itself in its pacing. While the first half feels intentionally slow, by the end the film is decidedly half-baked. Characters move at a snail’s pace to the point the climax is unclear. When the credits hit, viewers may feel teased by the endless buildup for a mild payout. 

The directing is sharp and the acting is superb, but the film buckles under the weight of its own flimsy script. It’s as though Penna perfected the first two acts before realizing his deadline was tomorrow and he had to turn something in. As the ship loses oxygen, the script loses steam. 

The film has a great foundation — but it’s a film, not the pilot of a television series. That’s not satisfying.

“Stowaway” would be a solid movie if only it had a fulfilling third act. The characters mesh well and the calmer pace is refreshing up until it isn’t. Once it’s over, it’s hard not to feel like it was all a waste of time. 

Without a major conclusion, the film reveals its focus to have been on humanity all along. But the characters are still sketches on a page, unclear and without dimension. Who is Marina (Collette) beyond a determined commander? Viewers receive glimpses of the characters, light brush strokes of context to add personality, but they’re not enough to make the film.

The only character to shine at all is Zoe (Kendrick). Kendrick’s performance elevates the character, making it possible to empathize with her plight.

Despite it all, “Stowaway” is never offensive. The dialogue is strong and the acting carries the weaker aspects of the plot. Viewers can be relieved casting got it right because the film would be an absolute snore with less-than-capable leads.

The film’s biggest missed opportunity is its avenue of release. “Stowaway” is built for the theater screen with its strong cinematography and suspenseful nature. Most of its misgivings would be alleviated if at least viewers could enjoy it in its totality.

Viewers who love a thriller or feel a strong connection with the cast should give “Stowaway” a shot. And those who’ve watched just about everything else Netflix has to offer could do a lot worse than this offering — though there’s no need to rush to see it.

“Stowaway,” rated TV-MA, is available to stream on Netflix.

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