DUBAI: Ever since Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” swept the Oscars in 2013, there’s been a rise in so-called ‘hard sci-fi’ movies looking to recapture that sense of gritty survival in the face of insurmountable (not to mention, extra-terrestrial) odds.
Netflix’s “Stowaway” certainly has the right team in place. Brazilian director Joe Penna and his co-writer Ryan Morrison won a lot of admirers with 2018’s “Arctic” — a survival thriller starring Mads Mikkelsen as a stranded pilot in the Arctic Circle who just can’t catch a break. Not content with having their protagonists put through the wringer from a survival point of view, in “Stowaway,” Penna and Morrison decide to throw a nasty moral quandary into the mix as well.
Marina (Toni Collette), Zoe (Anna Kendrick) and David (Daniel Dae Kim) make up a three-man crew headed to Mars. Shortly after leaving Earth, they discover Michael (Shamier Anderson) has inadvertently gotten trapped onboard during takeoff, and the carefully calculated life-support capacity of their ship is thrown into jeopardy. With their resources now stretched past breaking point, the trio are faced with a horrifying decision: ask Michael to remove himself from the equation, or risk all their lives in a bid to find a workaround.
The cast throw themselves into the roles with aplomb. Collette is excellent as the tortured mission commander with the weight of the decision on her shoulders, while Kendrick and Kim enjoy squaring off on opposite sides of the film’s central debate. Anderson brings an everyman quality to his hapless stowaway that lends emotional weight to the shifting attitudes of his fellow travelers. At the film’s helm, Penna shows an eye for combining breath-taking exterior visuals with cramped and atmospheric interiors, all the while throwing one calamity after another at his beleaguered cast of characters.
The movie’s final third slightly gives up on the moral debate (the crew’s decisions are usually superseded by whatever catastrophe hits them next) in favor of tugging at the emotional heartstrings, which is a bit of shame. Penna’s film is an entertaining watch, but ultimately ducks out of answering its own challenging questions.