Directed by Joe Penna, co-written with Ryan Morrison, following the pair’s Mads Mikkelsen-starring Arctic, Stowaway is the duo’s second pulse-pounding survivalist film. Their two works share a few commonalities: They’re claustrophobic affairs; while the Arctic partly takes place in a downed airplane, the Stowaway crew’s craft looks closer to a submarine in its narrow slinking hallways than a built-out second home.
The movie opens in the capsule during liftoff, with Penna taking a page from “First Man,” conveying the dread-ridden aspect of space flight through the volcanic tumult the crew members are subjected to. It’s as if they were strapped in a giant milk-shake blender; until the ship leaves the grip of Earth’s atmosphere, you feel it’s going to fly apart. There are four crew members: Zoe (Anna Kendrick), a physician who’s a relative newbie in space (looking out the window, she grins at Earth like a happy child); Marina, the ship’s commander, played by Toni Collette with a been-around-the-block authority (and reminding you what she sounds like when she speaks in her hard flat Aussie accent); David (Daniel Dae Kim), a gently officious botanist; and Michael (Shamier Anderson), a launch support engineer who inadvertently got trapped on the vessel just before takeoff.
There isn’t much space in this space film. The movie’s intensity stems from the ensuing claustrophobia. How Penna introduces space’s terrifying void into the narrative’s thrilling climax, is accomplished through a deceptively simple premise. To save Michael, Zoe and David must venture outside the craft, climb the tethers to another ship attached 450 meters away without damaging their vessel’s electronics or slipping away into space. Some parts of the tether are fully gravitated, while other sections give way to weightlessness. The VFX in Stowaway isn’t mind-blowing. They’re workmanlike and noticeable, particularly in the visually generic liftoff sequence. But the tether scene is a perfectly paced, heart-pounding piece of filmmaking holding similarities to Ad Astra, wherein the perilous openness of the cosmos, Hauschka’s unnerving score, and Morrison’s taut editing combine for frenzied fits of panic. The scene serves as a further example of the nimbleness Penna and Morrison have for these types of narratives.
Stowaway spends nearly two hours ratcheting the pressure on a crew left with an impossible decision only for the edge-of-your-seat fear to lull during the film’s waning minutes. Penna ends Stowaway on a solemn register that leaves one cold, and partly unsatisfied. The gentle close, however, doesn’t negate the prior sensational journey nor undo the heart palpitation it induced. Stowaway is shrewd in its decision-making and even better in its execution.
Here, there are no villains, just the cruel inhospitality of space, dumb luck, and the different taxonomies of heroism, decency, and sacrifice that the Kingfisher crew members represent. And yet just when you worry the film is nothing but inner struggles between principle and pragmatism, Penna contrives a visceral tether-climb space-walk sequence that delivers us into the final act squirming with secondhand anxiety.
And for the most part, aside from a slightly slack start, and it's stirring but simplistic ending, that kind of well-researched procedural detail is what makes Penna’s film such an engrossing and surprisingly touching addition to a genre already bursting with splashier, more extravagant, and more overtly sentimental titles. Without God metaphors or grandiosity or the threat of some sort of global extinction event to power it — without even sending a poet — “Stowaway” sets a small story in the bigness of space, and so brings space just a little bit closer to home.
Final Score – [7.2/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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