Stowaway (2021)

stowI’m not sure why exactly, but there was something of Michael Crichton about Stowaway, something about how the high-concept premise was grounded by realistic characters/scientists trying to survive a dangerous situation against mounting odds. The title says it all really: a three-man mission to Mars is scuppered by a fourth person being accidentally stowed onboard. Its a neat premise even though eminently unlikely- the kind of thing that might work for a thirty-minute Twilight Zone as a neat idea (thinking about it, wasn’t it the plotline of the 1960s Lost in Space?). Stretched to a full movie though its hard to suspend the element of nagging disbelief. Indeed it almost ruined the whole thing for me, as I kept on expecting some major revelation towards the end that would answer my doubts and questions. 

Just how does a launch platform engineer get trapped inside a space capsule bulkhead, without anyone realising he was missing, and then only retrieved from said bulkhead by unscrewing the panel trapping him inside like some kind of space age reversal of The Cask of Amontillado? It didn’t make any sense to me, and the characters plea of ignorance/amnesia too convenient to really convince, either. I maintained doubts and a hope that my questions would be answered, but they never were, so consequently it was a constant distraction that almost ruined the whole thing for me and left me frustrated at the end.

So I suppose one’s entire enjoyment of the film is predicated upon how easily one can accept its premise and lack of explanation. Certainly there is plenty to enjoy- the art direction is absolutely top-notch, its as convincing a setting as I can remember in recent space films (perhaps taking a nod or two from Ad Astra) and the characters are just as convincing too.  Ships commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette) is an astronaut veteran of previous Mars missions, calmly reassuring and nudging her two crewmates, scientists Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) and David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim, who quietly steals the show). Both Kendrick and Kim are rather endearing and most importantly quite convincing as scientists trying to prove themselves and validate their research (possibly the Crichton element I referred to). Stowaway Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) is a prospective applicant for a later mission who seems to have inadvertently circumvented the application bit until its realised that having an additional consumer of ship consumables endangers everybody.

Its a dramatic film and really quite impressively made, technically- I wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the science, as the MTS is set to revolving in order to maintain an artificial gravity reminiscent of how Christopher Nolan did it in Interstellar and then an extension rolls out like some kind of counter-balance and solar array but surely the centre of gravity was subsequently wrong (surely the MTS would continue to be the centre of gravity, but instead this shifts to the Solar array instead). I watched external visual effects shots of the ship on its journey and it just seemed at odds with what I’d seen earlier but never mind, maybe that’s just me missing something, or I saw it wrong, but this coupled with my nagging doubts about some guy being somehow sealed/screwed-in behind an important bulkhead panel left me troubled.

I suppose this film is the very definition of a flawed film, then. Maybe another viewing would alleviate my suspicion/disbelief, and likewise I had to wonder about how healthy a canister of oxygen would be having been blasted by deadly cosmic radiation, but that latter point is really the lesser of my concerns. When the central premise of  film, the crux of the whole drama, is predicated on something that just did not satisfy me at all, then I guess the film’s in some trouble. Either I missed a central piece of dialogue that answered everything or the film deliberately rushed past everything bluffing its way through (I suspect it was the latter). But its definitely well worth a watch, and no disaster.

5 thoughts on “Stowaway (2021)

  1. Tom

    Definitely have this one on my to-watch list, so I’ll swing back by to read your review in full when I have seen it. I’m looking forward to it actually quite a lot, mostly on reputation of the director here. I forget his name; guy who made 2018’s Arctic with Mads Mikkelsen, is as good as I can do right now.

  2. Pingback: The 2021 List: April – the ghost of 82

  3. I enjoyed this a lot, even though I had some of the same queries as you. When the crew were speculating about whether Michael was telling the truth or perhaps he’d deliberately stowed away, I was expecting some kind of reveal that he’d done it on purpose, perhaps as part of some kind of protest against the company behind the mission (as there are various hints that they’re not exactly saintly).

    I was actually glad that didn’t happen (it would’ve been a bit hyper-dramatic for a film that I think really wants to be a relatively-realistic sci-fi drama) but it did leave that ultimately-unanswered question. I can let it slide, but it’s also that kind of thing that holds films like this back from being all they can be.

    1. The ending wasn’t at all satisfying; it just seemed to happen, the end-credits coming up as if out of nowhere. Its so weird when films fudge their endings, it colours everything that came before. Maybe that just intensified all my issues with the internal logic/unanswered questions that I had. Maybe I could have forgiven them more had the film landed a really good ending.

      1. I didn’t mind the ending. The title and trailer pitch the film as being Michael’s story, but it’s really Zoe’s — it begins with her, and it ends with her. It might’ve been nice to see more of what happened next, but I think we’re supposed to assume it’s all hunky dory from there.

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