Toni Collette, Anna Kendrick struggle to survive in harrowing space thriller ‘Stowaway’

Thomas Casler

Humans have always been fascinated by space — a brutal and unforgiving environment that countless filmmakers have explored. While “Stowaway” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, the film uses its setting to its advantage to create a story of survival and morality.

“Stowaway,” released on Netflix on April 22, stars Toni Collette, Anna Kendrick and Daniel Dae Kim as three astronauts who embark on a two-year mission to Mars. When they discover engineer Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) was accidentally left on board during launch, the group must figure out how to survive the journey to Mars with limited resources.

Although this isn’t the first movie where a group of astronauts face peril on their mission, director Joe Penna does a great job of depicting how unpredictable space exploration is. The tense opening scene follows the crew during the spaceship’s initial launch as they shake vigorously and the insides of the vessel creak and groan. It’s a violent scene that illustrates the risk the crew is undertaking. One wrong move could mean the death of everyone on board.

“Stowaway” prompts questions of morality, inviting viewers to think about what they would do in such a dire situation. Would they try to keep everyone alive, or would they sacrifice someone for the sake of the mission? These questions of survival elevate “Stowaway” from a popcorn space flick to something deeper.

The cast does a great job of exploring their characters’ personal morality with what little they are given from the script. “Stowaway” gives us bits and pieces of the characters’ backstories but not a complete picture. If the cast wasn’t so talented, the lack of depth written into the script might have been more apparent.

“Stowaway” makes up for this flaw with some very tense scenes. The characters’ constant fear of potentially sacrificing their lives would be frightening enough, but Penna uses the setting of space to raise the stakes. In one scene, Kendrick and Kim’s characters climb the outside of their ship in search of oxygen to keep everyone alive. Audience members with a fear of heights might faint from this scene alone.

If the characters fall off the ship, they know they might fall forever. The hostility of space makes the film more terrifying than most of the horror movies you can find on Netflix.

The main strength of “Stowaway” stems from the realism Penna creates. There’s no cheap science fiction MacGuffin or deus ex machina that can save these crew members from their fate. They will inevitably have to make a difficult decision, and what makes “Stowaway” such a good film is that by the time the credits roll, audiences will be asking themselves if they would have done the same.

3.5 Oxygen Canisters out of 5