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I'm a genuine lover of every genre in cinema, but sci-fi is one of my absolute favorites. Within this area of storytelling, I find one-location space movies - usually inside a spaceship of some kind - incredibly captivating when done right. Joe Penna (Arctic) directs and co-writes his sophomore film in a challenging environment for any renowned filmmaker, let alone someone who's starting to build his career. Creating a story and developing it through the same halls, walls, and rooms for two hours is definitely not an easy task if the goal is to convince viewers to stick around until the end. Entertainment and filmmaking-wise, it's a tremendous challenge.
With that said, Stowaway is the first big surprise of 2021. Penna and Ryan Morrison put together an emotionally compelling screenplay, packed with excruciating moral dilemmas and a career-best performance from Anna Kendrick (A Simple Favor, Pitch Perfect). The actress raises to the occasion of being the protagonist of a movie that also has Daniel Dae Kim (Raya and the Last Dragon, Hellboy) and Toni Collette (I'm Thinking of Ending Things, Knives Out), stealing the spotlight by demonstrating her more dramatic side instead of her comedic comfort zone. Shamier Anderson (Destroyer, Love Jacked) also offers a remarkable display, which will probably catapult him into making more appearances with more recognizable actors.
The trailers might lead some viewers into believing Stowaway holds a fast-paced, entertainment-driven narrative, but the generic yet interesting premise is taken through a much more human, grounded perspective on life's most complex decisions. With the exception of Collette's character arc, every other astronaut receives a well-written script that gives them a fully developed personality with a complete backstory and dynamic, authentic dialogues. Unfortunately, even though Collette delivers a fantastic interpretation as always, her character spends most of her screentime talking with a random, invisible Earth engineer in a separate room, almost as if the actress was kept apart from the rest of the cast. The slow pacing is negatively impacted by this questionable narrative decision.
Technically, huge praise to the futuristic set design, which allowed the camera to move across the space station with ease, giving Penna and Klemens Becker (cinematographer) the chance to employ long, tracking shots that help make the atmosphere feel less monotonous. The VFX artists also deserve massive compliments for everything the viewers see outside the spaceship. Gorgeous, wallpaper-worthy images are spread throughout the runtime. The last act features suspenseful, nerve-wracking situations, but most importantly, it possesses an ending that will spark conversation after the credits roll. Is it a predictable, formulaic screenplay? Kind of, but it's beautifully made by an extraordinarily dedicated, talented filmmaker who I recommend everyone to follow closely.