When you’ve got a film set on an isolated spacecraft and the title is Stowaway, you’d naturally assume that the uninvited passenger is not of our planet and that it comes with less than friendly intentions. This is not that film though which is just as well as we’ve seen that before in Alien and Life, and in numerous episodes of Star Trek.
No, the guy that inadvertently finds himself aboard a ship that has just set off on a two year mission to Mars here is 100% human and isn’t objectionable in the slightest. He is still unwanted though for reasons that will become apparent very quickly, probably well before they start getting presented by the narrative.
I don’t want to say why this man is a threat to the others in the crew, although you may well have worked it out already, but the set up establishes a nice little psychological quandary that the movie starts to explore.
This is my issue though; it starts to explore the implications of what these four people are facing but then swerves away from this in favour of them trying to solve the problem. It poses a real ‘what would you do?’ scenario but doesn’t go on to follow this through to what feels like should be its inevitable end. To be fair, this may well be a reflection of what would happen in real life with people busying themselves with fruitless tasks rather than facing up to their difficult choices but I still can’t help but think that it makes Stowaway into a more standard film than it was promising to be at the halfway mark.
What we are left with is an intimate sci-fi drama akin but inferior to Gravity or Apollo 13 as those involved try to solve problems with limited resources and no atmosphere (in terms of the envelope of gases that surround the Earth, not a pervading tone that sets the mood of the piece – it has plenty of the latter). The film is tense and engaging as things go right and wrong in almost equal measure but it just doesn’t grip you in a way it could have.
The characters are all well developed but again, this only served to add to the disappointment of where the plot didn’t take them. The movie also finishes quite suddenly and while it ends really affectingly, just like the whole story it denies the audiences the aftermath of the impossible decisions that are having to be made.
My reaction to Stowaway is entirely based on what I expected and wanted it to be which may not be fair. I do feel that the movie set up some of those expectations though. It does do something different in this genre and it is definitely captivating but for a film about facing a hard situation, it didn’t face that situation itself – at least not to my satisfaction.
The Ripley Factor:
Here I can be unreservedly positive. The female players invite particular comparison to Ripley for the reasons I explored at the outset and they measure up well. There is a crew of three (then four) on this flying boat and two of them, including the captain are women. Gender is almost irrelevant in this film but that wouldn’t have been the case if they had all been men and both Anna Kendrick’s Zoe and Toni Collette’s Marina are very strong role models. Collette’s character name may be deliberately significant as she is indeed a secure place to go when you have been adrift on your voyage.
I have to admit to initially thinking that Kendrick didn’t look right in an astronaut helmet but the film shook those prejudices out of me and in the end she is kind of the hero. Also, while I loved Gravity for its gender politics and many many other reasons besides, this film shows what the otherwise totally unobjectified Sandra Bullock really should have been wearing under her space suit rather than those dubiously tiny shorts. I have to credit it for, inadvertently or otherwise, addressing that one feminist objection to one of my favourite films.