NEW TO NETFLIX! Hard science fiction is a tough genre to nail. For every Gravity, there’s a Life. Few filmmakers have achieved the perfect balance of realistically depicting the implications of traveling into the void while heightening certain elements to increase viewer enjoyment. With Stowaway, his second feature-length effort after the suspenseful Arctic, producer/writer/director Joe Penna firmly establishes himself as the new master of the survival movie.
Instead of battling the elements amongst glaciers, the four hapless heroes of this film face a horrific dilemma in the vacuum of space. Rather unexpectedly, the result is gripping and immersive, bolstered by a committed cast and some remarkable visuals. Though it’s not exactly profound in its implications (but then, neither was Gravity), it functions wonderfully as an example of sturdy, character-driven, hard science fiction.
“…accidentally knocked out while inspecting the ship and ended up traveling into outer space with the astronauts.”
A three-person crew sets out on a mission to Mars: Commander Marina (Toni Collette), medic Zoe (Anna Kendrick), and David (Daniel Dae Kim), the biologist. Once our heroes cross the Rubicon, an unexpected surprise literally falls on their heads: low-level engineer Michael (Shamier Anderson) was accidentally knocked out while inspecting the ship and ended up traveling into outer space with the astronauts. How no one at NASA noticed this blunder is a big question best left unasked. Understandably shocked at first, they accept Michael and even utilize his help. Before he has the chance to become part of the crew officially, another issue surfaces: they’re running out of oxygen, with only enough left for three people. Given the weight of their respective responsibilities, Michael’s gotta be the one to go. It’s math. Nothing personal.
Penna handles the growing tension with aplomb. The claustrophobia of being stuck in a glorified tin can, with only a few inches separating you from immediate obliteration, is palpable. He wisely begins with focused, tight shots of the characters’ faces as they take off and then expands the view into epic set-pieces, such as the breathless, gorgeous climb through space in the latter half of the film. A character gets space sick. An approaching solar flare further endangers our heroes. There’s a moment involving Zoe skidding down a wire, faster and faster, unable to stop, that rivals the great set-pieces in sci-fi cinema. Yes, I said it. Go ahead and quote me on that.
"…rivals the great set-pieces in sci-fi cinema."