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Stowaway Review: a Doomed Mission to Mars

Something is bound to go wrong in space. Stowaway, the latest Netflix original directed by Joe Penna, is a sci-fi thriller that adds another layer to the formulaic genre: morals and how can someone make an impossible decision.

In the opening scene, audiences are given a front row seat to a spaceship launch—the first step in the characters’ mission to Mars. The first anxiety inducing moment? Commander Barnett (played by Toni Collette) suspects the “main engines are underperforming slightly.” The knot in your stomach unties itself a bit a few seconds later, but it serves as a reminder there will be more bumps on the road. After all, it is space.

Everything goes sideways when the Commander discovers an unconscious engineer inside the ship. The unexpected passenger compromises their oxygen supply (accidentally!), so they must come up with ways to fix the situation. There were mathematical attempts, the sacrificing of algae research and the obvious but bad: are they going to kill the nice stowaway they just met who didn’t even ask to be there?

The incredible Toni Collette uses her native accent to remind audiences she is Australian as she plays a veteran astronaut commander on her last mission. The crew and viewers at home look to her to call the shots and make decisions as the leader. Daniel Dae Kim plays the calming presence of the bunch, the scientist who mostly keeps to himself and his research. The titular role is played by Shamier Anderson, the accidental fourth passenger who leaves behind a sister on Earth and wants to pull his weight around the ship. All the while, Anna Kendrick does what Anna Kendrick does best: she plays the doe-eyed physician and the beating heart of the film who is happy to be part of something bigger.

Based in a not-too-distant future, Stowaway uses its futuristic time period as a lazy cop-out to deal with its characters' identities. The man on the invisible chopping block is Black, and two white women and an Asian man get to decide his fate. Though in their defense, they spent more than half of the runtime trying to come up with solutions to their pressing problem of oxygen supply. Stowaway could have benefited from addressing the identity-sized elephant in the spaceship. 

The plot isn’t too complicated or physically rigorous on our characters like other space stories (Ad Astra and Gravity, I’m looking at you). It is a slow burn—a little too slow, toeing the line between thriller and drama. The characters’ main problem isn’t aliens or drifting away into the abyss, it is the gentle burden of another human life.

Stowaway is available to stream on Netflix.

Clara is a Journalism & Design and Screen Studies double major at The New School. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, her heart resides in the island as well as in New York City. She enjoys writing about film & tv, fashion, and all things arts and culture. In her free time, Clara listens to Harry Styles, talks to her crystals, and rewatches Gilmore Girls for the 100th time.
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