Stowaway tucks good moments into messy plot

Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim and Anna Kendrick tackle some tough questions in Netflix’s Stowaway. Our reviewer says the story requires viewers to make too many leaps of faith, but there are worthy moments along the way.

“Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many, outweigh…”

“The needs of the few.” 

“Or the one.” 

These words, part of the last conversation Spock and James Kirk ever had (or at least until Spock was resurrected one movie later), reflect one of the many themes that are explored in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a film that some still consider the pinnacle of Star Trek cinema. Weighing the lives of the rest of the crew of the Enterprise against his own, our favorite half-Vulcan sacrifices himself in the highly radioactive core of the Enterprise’s warp drive and saves the day (no, I don’t feel bad for spoiling a nearly 40-year-old movie). Not satisfied with posing this question to only one crew, space decides to be a jerk and do the same thing decades later to the small cast of Netflix’s Stowaway, a film that has some great dramatic and emotional moments but one that is also held back by asking the audience to willingly suspend far too much disbelief (as well as some pacing problems).  

I am pretty sure that it is not a spoiler to say that Stowaway has a stowaway in it. The plot is straightforward—a three-persons crew on its way to Mars make some tough decisions when an unexpected fourth member somehow finds his way aboard their already-launched ship. How do they keep everyone alive when the ship has a finite amount of air? Is it worth it to save one life if it risks the lives of the other three? These are some interesting moral questions that Stowaway asks (think the runaway trolley problem but in space), and the dialogue and cast (which includes Anna Kendrick and Toni Collette) more than sell the drama and stakes of it all. It is a film that is well-shot, well acted, and offers a few moments of tension. 

The problem is that to get to these moments, the plot makes some downright illogical leaps. The mere presence of the titular stowaway is ludicrous if one stops to think about the “how” for even a second, and I kept thinking that there was some exciting mystery that was going to unfold… one that would lead to some clever ah-ha moments that would make his presence on the ship make sense. This is not the case. The guy is there, and the three astronauts and the audience just have to accept that so we can get to the tense parts. It is a lot to swallow and not at all helped by the fact that the shortage of air itself only makes sense if the people who made the ship were absurdly stupid. Normally these would be small annoyances, but when the entire plot depends on you ignoring basic logic you have a problem.

And then the movie just kind of … ends. We never learn too much about who these characters are and the lives they had before they went to space, and it feels like a wasted opportunity. But despite these missteps, Stowaway is still a worthy time-filler that gets a lot more right than it gets wrong. For a Netflix original movie, that is a pleasant surprise. 

Stowaway is now available on Netflix.