Review by Sean Boelman
Joe Penna’s feature debut Arctic was an ambitious genre picture made on a small scale, and he continues that trend with his space-bound thriller Stowaway. Thanks to strong performances, tense dialogue, and a few excellent set pieces, this is an entertaining nail-biter of a popcorn flick.
The film follows the three-person crew of a space mission as they find an accidental stowaway on their ship, causing a series of unexpected consequences that threaten to derail the mission. It’s a moral study placed within a race-against-the-clock thriller structure, and that makes for a really gripping combination.
A majority of the first hour of the movie is spent getting the audience invested in this mission and watching the dynamic between the four characters form. That said, the tension in the later half is absolutely relentless, creeping under the viewer’s skin and keeping one on the edge of their seat without any break until the credits roll.
There are some really interesting ethical discussions that the film proposes throughout, and this is part of what makes the movie effective. The characters are thrown headfirst into this situation that fundamentally challenges their humanity, and the audience is right along with them, debating as to what the solution is.
That said, the film does suffer from some weaknesses in character development. All four of the characters are relatively archetypal, even to the point of feeling outright shallow. This seems to be for the purpose of making the central conflict more simple, but it still prevents a deeper emotional connection than appealing to the audience’s core humanity.
Still, the four actors are able to make the most out of their roles. Anna Kendrick shines in her dramatic turn, bringing the same charming naivete to the character that has made her other turns stand out. Daniel Dae Kim’s performance is much quieter, but just as powerful in a few very resonant moments. And Toni Collette and Shamier Anderson round out the small cast well.
Much of the movie is set within the confines of the ship, so there is a lot of detail put into the production design. That said, there are about twenty minutes total that involve some more substantial visual effects, and those are really strong and likely to catch the viewer off-guard in an otherwise dialogue-heavy project.
Stowaway is a relatively simple thriller, but all of the elements that are needed for it to succeed are there. Joe Penna is establishing himself as the filmmaker to create humanistic and claustrophobic movies about survival, and it will be exciting to see what he does next.
Stowaway is now streaming on Netflix.