The new science fiction drama Stowaway (2021) is a nicely produced, half-decent bottle-set project that doesn’t really do enough to set itself apart from the classic SF premise it leans quite heavily on. The film chronicles a three-person mission to Mars, headed by Commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), who is accompanied by two researchers, medical doctor Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) and biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim). The mission launches in mostly routine fashion, but is soon complicated by the discovery of an unexpected fourth passenger: Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson), a ground-crew engineer who suffered an injury and lost consciousness right before takeoff while performing maintenance. After an initial investigation into the situation, the crew — with Zoe leading the way — embraces the challenge of helping their new, untrained team member acclimate, and adjusting the mission parameters. But soon it becomes apparent that the accident that injured Michael has also damaged the ship, forcing the crew to take drastic, risky measures to save themselves.
The primary problem with Stowaway is that there’s almost no surprise to it, especially for science fiction readers familiar with the classic Tom Godwin short story “The Cold Equations.” That story, about the harsh scientific realities of space travel, is an obvious ancestor to this one, which has a nearly identical ethical conundrum at its core. Stowaway adds elements and varies the details, but otherwise tells an extremely similar story, with plenty of attractive visuals and suspicious-looking physics. At first, it appears the mystery behind Michael’s appearance might lend additional intrigue to the scenario, but that doesn’t really develop into anything; the story is almost entirely about the crew’s moral conundrums and sacrifices, which are engaging, but rather old hat. The film-making execution is generally solid, and the performances are pretty good, with Anderson in particular making a positive impression. But for all its earnest effort, Stowaway is familiar, underwhelming stuff.