Nearly halfway through Netflix's Stowaway, when it's become clear that the three astronauts and their titular extra passenger may not have enough oxygen over their journey, their main plan for perhaps overcoming this deadly development doesn't work simply because, if it did, the movie would be over. The characters respond to this wrinkle in their plan with heavy sighs and larger anxiety about what it means for the next act of the story, and though momentum-wise it continues on to the next set of beats, there are still times where Stowaway can't overcome the fact that its genius characters can't solve a problem because if they did, there wouldn't be a movie anymore.
Anna Kendrick leads the small cast as the ship's medical personnel, flanking Daniel Dae Kim as the biologist, Toni Collette as the ship's commander, and Shamier Anderson as the stowaway. The smaller cast allows all of the actors to get their own time to shine on screen, and they do a decent job with what they're given, but the manufactured drama of the script weighs down the elevation their performances bring to the material. What's especially egregious about this is there are apparently unlimited resources back on Earth attempting to come up with a solution to their problem; we know this because the film tells us more than once, and yet the best that can be conceived of is a giant shrug.
That's not to say that the sum of the movie's parts are no good; director Joe Penna manages to deliver some thrilling sequences and the minimal cast does at least amplify the tension of its narrative. Collette is given the rare chance to use her authentic accent in the film, but is tragically wasted on the whole, as she is relegated to delivering exposition monologues where her unseen Earth liaison simply delivers bad news upon bad news. Dae Kim and Kendrick are the strong points, fully embodying their characters who are navigating difficult moral questions in the vacuum of space and attempting measures to overcome them.
The pair also share the best scene of the movie as they maneuver across the entire outside of the ship to make an attempt at helping the situation. It eats up a lot of the film's final hour, but is well worth the build-up. They also each share very strong moments with Anderson, a maintenance worker who was accidentally trapped on the ship as it launched into space. Fittingly enough, their two scenes are opposite sides of a coin, as Dae Kim's dialogue with him airs on the pessimistic side while Kendrick takes the optimistic tone. Anderson navigates both scenes with elegance and makes these human moments the strongest thing about Stowaway.
Movies like Stowaway require an ample amount of a willing suspension of disbelief, but what makes it difficult for this specific title is how often it wants to balance pure outer-space realism with theoretical ideas and a total lack of faith in their abilities. Furthermore, even though the stakes are frequently life or death, it seldom seems to believe that and its throughline of defeatism makes it hard to root for the characters finding a way out. In a world where Gravity and The Martian don't exist, perhaps Stowaway would find a place as an elegant space thriller, but it's really only that about half the time.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Stowaway is now streaming on Netflix.