Hyperion’s MTS42 has successfully lifted off for a 2 year mission to Mars with its crew of three, Ship doctor Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) tending to her friend, research scientist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), who’s a bit green at the gills from motion sickness. Everything seems great until Commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette) notes blood dripping from above and pulling out a panel to investigate discovers a seriously injured “Stowaway.”
Laura's Review: B-
Cowriter (with editor Ryan Morrison)/director Joe Penna probes similar themes from his last film, "Arctic," in which a scientist bravely faces the elements in a remote and hostile environment to save the injured stranger who came out to save him. This time around we have an injured launch support engineer, Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson, "Race"), whose presence aboard a tightly architected space module will endanger the air supply, requiring another act of bravery in a hostile and remote environment. “Stowaway” isn’t as good as the earlier film (no Mads Mikkelsen for one thing) with the rigging of its more familiar outer space plot clear for all to see, but it is an edge-of-your-seat adult thriller with a solid cast that gets the job done.
When Michael comes tumbling down (we never do learn how he got there or why he wasn’t detected before take-off), he lands awkwardly on Marina, injuring her arm to the point that she requires a cast. He’s got a serious gash on his side which Zoe stitches up with help from her pal David (their friendship is established based on a joshing Harvard-Yale rivalry). But there is a third, more dire ‘injury’ to life support module responsible for sucking carbon dioxide out of the air, damage that cannot be fixed.
Michael is panic stricken upon regaining consciousness. He is the only family to a younger sister and certainly wasn’t planning on a two-year mission (Barnett quickly arranges guardianship before the arduous task of figuring out her air supply problem), but once he calms down he realizes this might be an opportunity and begs to be made useful. The three assigned crew keep the air problem to themselves, but when they are informed they have twenty days grace period, the doctor’s desire to do everything to save Michael is at odds with David’s more cautious approach.
There are small ‘getting to know Michael’ moments, David analyzing his love of the jazz Michael initially finds grating, Zoe learning about his rough start in life when she sees the extensive burns which cover his torso. Penna’s added subtext about commercial considerations taking priority over human life, details of which Michael freaks out Zoe with. And so, when Zoe decides she is going to take on the horrifying task of spacewalking (actually shimmying) a great distance to reach a potential oxygen source, she’ll have to be careful about just what she hangs onto or risk cutting power to the ship.
“Stowaway” is the type of film that seems to exist all for its excruciating climax, one in which Penna keeps upping the ante to unbearable degrees. Anderson creates such a sympathetic character we can believe in the heroism on display here, ably communicated by the team of Kendrick and Kim. It is Collette who is the odd person out here, oddly irreverent amidst a four person cast. Zoe’s opening diary narration is tailor made to end the film, Penna providing peak anxiety within a screenplay where every element fits too neatly into place.
Robin's Review: C+
The three-person crew is on the way for a two-year mission to Mars. What they do not know is that there are four on board, not three. They discover the unconscious body of Michael (Shamier Anderson), who should not be there. Then, things really begin to spiral out of control and their very survival is in danger because of the “Stowaway.”
I was trying to think of a movie that had the survival dilemma similar to “Stowaway” and, right now, I am a bit stumped. And, as I watched the story of strife in space unfold I realized that this concoction is simply a series of obstacles, like vignettes, to the mission, each one more dire than the last.
The whole stranger-on-board-the-ship dilemma gets serious fast when the “CDRA” unit fails – that is the unit that scrubs the air of CO2 – and they are in danger of running out of oxygen. This of course leads to the scramble to somehow deal with and resolve the oxygen issue. It would have been nice if the spaceship private company’s designers had thought to have a backup CDRA on board, ya know, just in case they might need a spare. There are several of these manufactured crises that are there to carry forth the tension of a mission on the brink of failure.
I have to admit, the small, effective cast and solid production values work well, despite the story’s literary license to create tension – would you leave Earth for Mars and not have a spare CDRA or two, just in case? Not me!
This morality play of life and death and choices that must be made could have been anywhere – five miles under the sea, ballooning across the Alps, on a return trip to the moon or, as here, on a mission to Mars. Crisis in deep space does take the cake, though, of places for things to go wrong.
"Stowaway" premieres on Netflix on 4/22/2021.