The 400-Word Review: Stowaway
By Sean Collier
April 23, 2021
The trolley problem, a classic thought experiment, has been indirectly rendered on screen in films as divergent as “Sophie’s Choice” and “Dawn of the Dead.” (It was also quite literally portrayed on television, by “The Good Place.”) For those of you not spending much time with ethical quandaries, it goes like this: an out-of-control train is screeching towards five people, who are stuck on the track. You can pull a lever that will divert the train to another track, where only one person is stuck; by doing so, you’ll reduce the total carnage but have directly chosen to kill a person who would’ve otherwise survived the incident.
There are various ways to ratchet up the dilemma posed by the problem — adding or subtracting the victims, changing the relationship to our hypothetical lever-puller, making them evil or good. Or, in the case of the film “Stowaway,” putting everyone on the same spaceship, which can neither support the full crew nor be turned around.
Getting the scenario onto a hopeless space conveyance is admittedly a bit labored, but the dilemma remains the same.
Marina (Toni Collette), Zoe (Anna Kendrick) and David (Daniel Dae Kim) are the crew of a vessel bound for Mars; they’re set to experiment on the long-term habitability of the red planet and then return, a journey that will take two years. The logistics of interplanetary travel mean that basically everything needs to go just right; without precise control, their life-support systems won’t get them there, and the big ol’ solar sail they’re using to propel them can’t be turned around. (If you’re wondering how they’re going to land on Mars, then launch and get home: I don’t know, science stuff, just go with it.)
One big problem: There’s another guy on the ship. Michael (Shamier Anderson), an engineer, was injured and knocked unconscious during pre-flight work; he unknowingly took off with the crew, a bit of unplanned chaos that has injured both the titular stowaway and the ship. The vessel does not have the right stuff to get four people to Mars instead of three, so things are about to get ethically problematic.
The cast is good and the suspense is real, even if the circumstances are tortured. “Stowaway” doesn’t quite manage to stick the landing — co-writer/director Joe Penna is much better at the latter job — but it works well enough as an extraterrestrial thriller.
My Rating: 7/10
“Stowaway” is streaming on Netflix.