Stowaway on Netflix: A compelling, slow-burn survival drama
Ivan Radford | On 22, Apr 2021
Director: Joe Penna
Cast: Daniel Dae Kim, Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Shamier Anderson
Watch Stowaway online in the UK: Netflix UK
A group of people trapped together in a spaceship fight for their survival. That’s the brief for Stowaway, Netflix’s new sci-fi thriller. But where most space survival flicks would see a crew’s craft infiltrated by some kind of monstrous threat, Stowaway doesn’t bother with aliens at all. The threat here is much closer to home, and all the better for it.
We begin with the mission already blasting off into space, a three-person Mars voyage comprising biologist David (Daniel Dae Kim), doctor Zoe (Anna Kendrick) and commander Marina (Toni Collette). But soon after take-off they realise that their three-person mission is actually four, with engineer Michael (Shamier Anderson) accidentally stowing away after getting stuck on board while doing last-minute checks. And so he begins to muck in with the rest of them, learning the ropes of how to live and work in space.
There’s something wonderfully compelling and convincing about the way we, too, slot in alongside this group, and director Joe Penna and co-writer Ryan Morrison have a real knack for capturing the routine mechanics of daily life in low-key detail. Anna Kendrick’s likeable, excited Zoe may school Michael in the safety protocols of the vessel, but equally revealing is the conversation between Dae Kim’s passionate yet clinical scientist David and Anderson’s initially shocked Michael about the pros and cons of jazz.
We learn about these characters through their actions more than exposition-laden dialogue, which plays perfectly into Tony Colette’s vital central performance, which anchors the whole drama. Watching her gradually coming to terms with the situation facing them all is gripping stuff, as the question of resources aboard the ship not being able to sustain the unexpectedly larger group becomes increasingly pressing.
Morrison (also on editing duties) and Penna previously worked together on Arctic and this shares that film’s same muted tension, in which things that don’t need to be said remain unspoken, and the essential drive to stay alive ramps up the suspense by creeping up behind you. An inevitable sequence outside the shuttle is nail-biting, while the interiors are as claustrophobic as cinema gets. Arriving on the tales of The Martian and Gravity, there’s a familiar clenching hope in watching competent people being smart enough to solve insurmountable problems, but Stowaway doesn’t guarantee solutions from the off, giving things a poignant tone more in tune with Netflix’s recent The Midnight Sky. The result doesn’t quite stick the landing, but by boldly venturing in unexpected directions, this grounded and intimate space drama still touches down with surprising weight.
Stowaway is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.