Stowaway Can’t Hide from Reality

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Stowaway is one of those films where you know how it will end the moment the plot drops – if you’re a space flight engineer, that is. Most people will expect a Hollywood exception where the miraculous happens, and the audience can breathe again when all is well. Perhaps a hidden secret will come to light, maybe an off-screen event saves the day, or possibly an oddball character solves the problem in a fit of revelation.

This film is about math and the inescapable brutality an immovable set of circumstances can have when there are no options to be had. There are many situations when a little change here or there can alter a seemingly predictable outcome. Sometimes you’re lucky. Just never in space.

Happily, nothing so dramatic happens in this film to save the apparent fates of the crew. That is except all the insane, totally illogical other stuff they do that has no bearing on the outcome of their fortunes. One hopes NASA or SpaceX never sends anyone like these dolts into space.

There is constant tension in the film and not that good kind of stress that has you wondering what comes next. It’s less nail-biting and more anxiety sweating. If you know how it will end, the payoff is waiting to see if you’re right despite the rest of the film’s runtime trying to hide the math from you.

As is often the case with Netflix films, the visuals are excellent. Space looks plausibly realistic except for some green cosmic rays that seem very fake. I enjoyed the film’s decision to shy away from fake zero-gravity effects that always look stilted and wrong even with the best VFX. Instead, the writers show us a very advanced spaceship where gravity seems plausible inside and outside the spacecraft.

The realism seems genuine to the amateur space enthusiast, more so than a SciFi film with outlandish ships and remote outposts on strange planets. It is a serious film that wants you to believe everything you see is possible.

They are going to Mars, but it isn’t clear why. Nothing about anything in the space program side of the script is clear. Only during the takeoff sequence do we hear flight command voices. The rest of the film has only the dialog of the four actors.

The pace is slow, and the tenor is depressing. The performances, however, are good. Anna Kendrick and Daniel Dae Kim stand out as seasoned actors trying to get the film going. Toni Collete’s mission captain character is poorly scripted despite her doing everything the writer wants and more, to her credit. Shamier Anderson plays a convincing stowaway even though his situation is apparent almost immediately.

If I saw this film in a theater, I would have been disappointed. It’s not an art piece and not a blockbuster, it’s a short story in video, and for Netflix, that’s all most of us want.

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