Back in 2007 as Danny Boyle’s space thriller sunshine In theaters, the critical reaction and audience reaction seemed to be saying roughly the same thing: Boyle wasted a really good, serious space thriller by turning it into a goofy space slasher. Bring it up sunshine with someone who saw it, and chances are they’ll say a variation, “The first half, which is all about technical glitches, was great. So why did he have to throw in a psycho killer?” Now everyone who ever claimed wanted the full version of the first act of sunshine has a chance to prove it: Netflix’s new space drama Stowaway is basically the dark, reality-driven space crisis film sunshine initially To be given.
And it’s not as satisfying as we once imagined.
Brazilian writer and director Joe Penna seems to be totally dedicated to holding Stowaway cautious and realistic, at least as much as it can be, while maintaining its premise. It’s not an approach filmmakers have ever taken to modern science fiction, which is practically always about big, broad action. There’s none of the humor or the excitement of The Martian in the Stowawayand none of the breathtaking speed or dizziness of Heavinessalthough the premise is reminiscent of these two films. The film doesn’t even throw out ridiculous Star Trek-Style Technobabble in an attempt to whiz over its plot instruments. For anyone who has ever heard recordings of a NASA launch with serious, calm people doing their jobs with competent focus, Stowaway will hardly feel fictional. There is a formidable novelty in this type of science fiction. Free from aliens, lasers and explosions as well as tantrums, talking with Oscar lures and other histrionics. Stowaway is free to explore a career crisis in a professional manner. It’s just that his approach is so far removed from science fiction conventions that it may not be able to grab the attention of viewers.
Toni Collette, Anna Kendrick and Daniel Dae Kim play three astronauts on a two-year mission to Mars, where they are supposed to carry out biological and botanical experiments that could pave the way for a possible manned base. Marina (Collette), her commander, is on her third and final mission. The other two, David (Kim) and Zoe (Kendrick), are flying into space for the first time and are both nervous and enthusiastic. Penna and co-writer Ryan Morrison signal their intentions for the muted, tech-heavy tone of the film by focusing on nothing but the minutes of space travel for the first 20 minutes of the film’s 116-minute runtime: the three astronauts take off and dock the station where you live on your journey and unpack the equipment in the module of the station. They take mundane interview questions from Earthside media and settle into their bunks. They exercise, start their experiments and gently joke with each other. For almost a fifth of the film, there is no sign of tension or anger.
Then suddenly they find themselves in Tom Godwin’s classic 1954 science fiction story “The Cold Equations”. Your ship has an unexpected passenger: support crew member Michael (Shamier Anderson) who is somehow trapped in the walls of her life support module and ended up unconscious. They treat him and inform the support crews at home to confirm that there is no way to abort the mission or bring him back to Earth. With no other option, he eventually begins to get close to the life of the crew. But the math for its presence doesn’t match: thanks to a damaged carbon dioxide scrubber and the presence of an extra person on board, the transit module doesn’t have enough oxygen to allow four people to get to Mars. There might not even be enough oxygen for two of them to survive.
in the The MartianThis type of dilemma was used to direct a tense thriller that alternated between a stranded astronaut and his support crew at home. Both used ingenuity and determination to solve the problem and save his life. Penna and Morrison seem to make an early decision not to annoy viewers with such a solution. Like “The Cold Equations” Stowaway In the end, it’s more about the inevitability of the situation with an additional moral question: if one of the four is to die on the ship, which one should it be and when and how should it happen?
There are a thousand ways this story could go, and Stowaway in short and vague teases of chasing some of them, including the idea that Michael might have purposely stopped a ride for some malicious purpose. (The sunshine The version of that story would have absolutely turned him into a saboteur and villain, and would have chased the ship to overthrow the crew for some shameful reason.) Penna might have pitied the crew against each other and sparked furious arguments or arguments over who should die and unleash the kind of anger and resistance that often comes with the fear of death. You may have followed questions of guilt for Michael’s presence that are never explained or even really explored. You may have considered who is most important to the mission or whose family situation and future are most likely to guarantee their survival. Given that Michael is the only black performer, there was even the potential for a current political or social angle, considering whether his race, economic standing, or job made the crew and support team think about his human worth influenced.
Instead, everyone is remarkably informed about the dilemma, apart from the realization that no one wants to die and no one wants to kill anyone else. The crew members differ in when Michael should be informed and how much of their supply margin they should bet on keeping him alive for a few more days. But, like the rest of the film, those arguments are terse and low-key. Eventually, Penna moves the film towards action – but even that action focuses on the smallest details of science and process. The story becomes extremely tense, but it is never a bombastic tension. Even the ending avoids any kind of drama or hysteria.
Klemens Becker’s cinematography for the film is flawless: the images are sharp and vivid, with the lighting going a long way in creating moods, regardless of whether the characters are sitting in bright laboratories or stand out against a distant earth seen through a window becomes. It’s a beautiful-looking film with the chill of 1960s and 1970s science fiction, enhanced by an impressive cast that can be seen in intimate close-ups and narrates medium-range footage. The production design and score all work towards a sense of tasteful, tragic restraint, a space where nothing can be wasted, and even slightly raised voices feel out of place.
But despite the size of the backdrop – the vastness of space and the infinite emptiness around the ship – Penna and Morrison keep this story small enough that it can be performed on a single set. They choose never to show the support team at home or even to make their voices clearly audible: when Marina or the others are talking to their liaison at home, they keep their earbuds on and their monitors point away from the camera, so no other person’s faces or spaces can be seen. The environment is claustrophobic and isolated, a kind of pressure cooker situation designed to increase the tension in a horror movie or the desolation in a drama.
But Stowaway rarely takes advantage of this oppression or connects with his characters the way horror stories or dramas do. The cast is more than capable: Kendrick has had a career specializing in playing sincere characters whose charm prevails against whatever masks they try to wear, and Kim brings a mature fatigue to his role as the least morally defensible the group. Collette creates a lot of empathy for her character, even in a signed role that takes so much decision-making out of her hands that she is essentially just a mouthpiece. And Anderson plays a difficult role in playing a man who has to be meek enough not to over-assert himself and run the risk of appearing irrational or dangerous, but still has enough agency, personality, and spine not to to act as a cipher. It’s a great cast, they’re just held back at every moment by a story so decorative and low-key, so low-key and humble that it barely registers.
And in the end, because the sound is so immutable, it absolutely doesn’t register that the movie is over until the credits start rolling. Additionally, it is unclear what the ending means for any of the characters since the story was so low key and unaffected. A voice-over suggests a moral lesson without underlining it. There is no inference, no catharsis, and no checking in with any of the characters for an answer on recent events. It’s all an odd experience in terms of mood and melancholy and how small details can be used to create a story. And very few people are likely to find it satisfying. This isn’t a story of a villain murderer running amok on the ship, but it certainly took a little more to keep viewers from feeling as free and drifting as Penna’s camera did in its last wordless shot. It’s admirable to see him try something other than the ordinary space thriller, but apparently there’s a reason people don’t make science fiction films that way.
Stowaway is now streamed on Netflix.