Three years after their debut, director Joe Penna and his co-writer Ryan Morrison return with another straightforward survival story. The notable difference is that they have swapped the open, ice-cold aesthetic of the Arctic tundra for the claustrophobic environment of a ship in remote space. Otherwise, it is more of the same. Though not as strong as their debut, the film carries its audience along, even if it runs out of air by the end.
The action opens with ship’s commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) and biologist David Kim (Damiel Dae Kim) cramped together in the rattling cockpit of a ship bound for Mars. Soon after take-off, they find injured stowaway Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson). The discovery, though, has destroyed the CRDA (which is responsible for removing carbon dioxide), and means there is only enough oxygen for three of them to survive the voyage.
Driving the film are two things: the taut atmosphere that consumes the ship when it seems sacrificing Michael is the only way to survive, and the aeronautic logistics of augmenting the depleting oxygen supply to avoid this sacrifice. In the case of the former, Toni Collette is instrumental in convincingly portraying this distress. In the case of the latter, Penna and Morrison draw on the knowledge of aerospace engineers Logan Kennedy, Scott Manley and Arthur Ruff to craft an accurate and engaging script.
The final climax, however, which involves an ingenious, yet perilous plan to gather oxygen from outside the ship, is less gripping than the emotionally-charged dilemma that preceded it. Of all the things that should be suspenseful in a thriller, this is it. Even the brave directorial choice to heighten the impact of the final moments with nothing more than atmospherically hoarse breaths as a key character undertakes a heroic act fails to land.
Despite this struggle to generate suspense, though, Penna and Jenna’s journey is a steely cinematic leap into hard sci-fi. Its rewards for the audience might be small, but they are satisfying, nonetheless.
Stowaway is released on Netflix on 22nd April 2021.
Watch the trailer for Stowaway here: