Stowaway [2021]

“What are we gonna do, ask him to walk out of the airlock?”


Oh man, I meant to do a post about this one film a long time ago when I watched it back in June 2021.. Stowaway is a science fiction thriller which came out in 2021. You can see it on Netflix now, if you want to. I really meant to do a post about it straight away when I saw it because it had a big impact on me, but life took over, and I kept saying I would write something but never did. So, anyway, I’m doing that now; here I am writing a post about this! 

So, just to give a little synopsis about the film, here goes!

The film stars some pretty big names in Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Toni Collette and Shamier Anderson. It’s directed by Joe Penna and written by both Joe and Ryan Morrison. 

The story is about a crew of three people who are on a two-year mission to Mars, headed/piloted by Toni Collette’s character, a biologist in Daniel Dae Kim and Anna’s character as the medical researcher, Zoe. They take off from Earth and quickly find themselves in trouble when Michael, a stowaway, is found unconscious in a module somewhere in the ship sort of entangled in something that takes carbon dioxide from the air. As he falls from this module, he ends up destroying it which basically renders the ship unable to scrub carbon dioxide from it, so the longer that this extra person exists on the ship, the higher likelihood there is that they will suffocate. They move quickly to trying to think of various ways in order to scrub the CO2 from the air such as using lithium hydroxide canisters but the load is too much for them to handle. David then sacrifices part of his algae experiment which is literally the whole reason for the mission. Half of the algae die in the process and only provides enough CO2 scrubbing for a third person. Mission control suggests they try a dangerous mission to recover liquid oxygen from the spent upper stage rocket, which is not the ideal situation because it is so darn risky. So they spend time considering their options including whether to sacrifice Michael. Eventually they run out of time… all the algae has died which means they don’t have an option here. Presented with this, both Zoe and Daniel volunteer to try to retrieve the liquid oxygen. The mission is a total failure – predictably – and they barely make it back alive. Zoe ends up sacrificing herself, goes back to retrieve the canister, exposing herself to a lethal amount of radiation and the last scene is her looking at the stars and succumbing to death.

So, what did I think this film? 

I think it’s an interesting take on a conundrum, which I’m sure we’ve all seen, where there’s a wild trolley hurtling towards a split track and you are given a scenario of either killing one person who you don’t know or many who you do. What do you do? If Star Trek and Spock have taught me anything, it is that the needs of the many far outweigh the needs of the few and this is the core argument throughout much of the film.

I find it very fitting that Anna Kendrick’s character being a medical professional and therefore altruistic role ends up both pleading for a caring outcome (rather than killing Michael) and ends up herself volunteering to what is ultimately her own demise. I guess all the characters in this live up to the roles that they play and in the ways in which they ultimately approach this challenge. Toni’s character leads them to this difficult solution… Daniel’s character being the scientist tries to come to a scientific solution.. Anna’s character, as mentioned, takes on the caregiver role. And Shamier’s character Michael is the innocent in this situation; being the least experienced of the team. I found it interesting as well that one of the reasons for Anna’s character to sacrifice herself is that she did not have a family and I think that plays into an archaic gender role. Toni and Daniel’s characters can’t sacrifice themselves because they are core to the mission. One of the suggestions is that as Anna’s character does not have a family, that this makes her the preferred candidate. Does that devalue her as a person? It seems like that is implied. I guess it would be almost too easy for Michael, the person who stowed away, to sacrifice himself. It would be quite a boring ending. 

I also found it interesting that basically all of the algae had died because of this situation, so their whole reason for going to Mars at all (for, I assume, terraforming Mars) is destroyed.. It makes me wonder what happened afterwards when they got to Mars. I mean, it’s sort of implied that they would have gotten to Mars in the end because the end of the film is Anna Kendrick looking out at the stars and you can faintly see Mars in the distance. It feels hopeful despite this great tragedy. But then when they get there, what are they even gonna do? Are they just gonna turn around and go back? I always find this question of terraforming other planets quite ridiculous anyway… It’s an age old theme but I find it so silly because we have a perfectly habitable planet that we live on right now but we just treat it like shit. If we just looked after the planet that we lived on, perhaps we wouldn’t need to have conversations about terraforming anything because the planet that we live on literally has everything that we need in abundance. 

I really like that they never truly address why Michael has stowed in the ship because it almost seems irrelevant. It’s a mystery but knowing ‘why’ would not actually help them in their situation. I mean, I assume Michael was desperate to be part of this mission and that’s why this happened but equally he could have been fixing something and got stuck there in the module. Often in films where there is a stowaway, usually they’re young, maybe they’re trying to run away from something, or it’s something or someone evil putting the crew in danger intentionally. And so I think this was a really nice twist because this character Michael was actually very innocent. You can tell he is very troubled by his presence causing such a consequence, and that he did not wish to hurt anyone.

So all in all, simple concept and interesting moral conundrum. Well acted. At times stunning CGI. But quite a predictable film I would say. Still worth the watch.

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Glasshouse [2021] [sci-fi-london.com]

“Once upon a time, there was a girl. She came upon an enchanted castle made of glass. Only people who remembered their names could enter there.”


Directed by Kelsey Egan, this South African film is set in a dystopian future where something called ‘The Shred’ has ravaged the world. It’s an airborne virus which literally shreds the memories and brain functions of people. One family seem to have thought of everything and live in a glass house surrounded by plant life. From the onset of the film, we learn that trespassers are shot on sight and used for fertiliser for their plants. As barbaric as that may seem, this family have very quaint, respectful traditions that surround these tributes whereby they recognise the life of these people before they become food for their tomatoes… In fact, their whole schtick is very ‘Little House on the prairie’ complete with oxygen mask bonnets. They live very simple lives led by the matriarch of the group where everyone plays an integral part to the upkeep of the house, taking turns to clean, plant and do ‘century duty’ which involves protecting the perimeter and Evie collects items which she hides to help preserve the memories of the past. One day, an attractive male stranger joins the group and the eldest daughter, ‘Bee’ takes him in – which is totally against the rules. This stranger is injured so they sew him up and when he wakes in chains, they explain that he will need to earn his keep. His inclusion into the family starts to dramatically mess with the normal flow of things in the house. Gabe, a teenage boy in the fam, whose mind has been affected by ‘The Shred’ obviously distrusts the stranger. Bee is very taken by him and makes excuses to be around him. Evie does not trust him but there is an obvious chemistry between the two of them. The stranger falsely claims to be the family’s long lost elder brother/son Luka (who apparently had an incestuous relationship with Bee in the past and who they believe will return). Bee believes this immediately but the others are not so sure. The matriarch agrees that he can stay for as long as it takes to provide Bee with a child but that he must leave after that. Learning about this, the stranger murders the mother and points the finger at Gabe (exposing him to further effects of The Shred, which renders him completely comatose and unable to defend himself against the accusations). We learn that the stranger is not affected by the virus. Evie blames herself, that it was her fault in the first place as Gabe went outside as a child when she should have been watching him. They agree to changing the way they do things and the last scenes show them accepting their new path as a group. In the last scene we see Gabe come across proof that none of the family are the original family members, that no one is who they believe themselves to be, before he is shot by the stranger.

It’s really hard to sum up this film well, because there’s a lot going on. First off, I loved this film so much. It was utterly beautiful.

Musically, they stripped down the film to its bare bones which was excellent and I’ll explain why. They included some sounds to create tension but most of the noticeable ‘music’ in the film was from the actors themselves through these folk songs about their history. They had them singing beautiful acapella folk songs with lyrics such as “Hold your breath, the shred hollows all. Minds erode like rust.” Folk songs historically are devices used to pass down stories of strife through generations so this stylistic choice inclusion was really smart and a concise way of quickly explaining to the viewer what happened without having to be like “and then so and so happened and we did so and so”. Having read a couple negative reviews, it looks like this film was criticised for not explaining more about the world outside of the house, which I would disagree in light of the folk stories and songs. The stories of the past are there if you just listen, but obviously they’re all from the family’s insular perspective. They don’t really know what happened outside of the Glasshouse. Using these folk songs also makes the landscape very quiet, which in itself is tense, and it made me feel like I was there. Similar effect to the ‘A Quiet Place’ film… it feels very sinister and uncomfortable to not have your ears barraged by constant soundtrack and that pulls you right in, making any sound you do hear more poignant.

This is funny to say but I enjoyed even the name of the virus. Like imagine if there was an airborne virus with the potential to take out even the most intelligent scientists on the planet who might typically give it a convoluted, medical name like ABC298309, and all is left is this literal name. It shreds your memories so this family call it The Shred… it was a cute touch.

Obviously the concept is not unique.. pandemic and family trying to make it work.. stranger intrusion etc etc. What’s interesting about this particular take is that the longer you watch this, as their stories unfold, you realise how little you know the characters. Usually the longer you watch a film, the more you understand right? However, in Glasshouse, the more you watch the more you realise these people are actually complete strangers to you. Not only that but they don’t even know that they are not who they say they are. They’ve been told a line through these folk songs and the stories that this mother figure has told them and the stories they etched on their window (like caveman paintings on the inside of a cave) and in a world of uncertainty, they take all of that as complete truth… which we later discover is not the case. Why would they ever question it, you might ask? I mean, in light of the actual truth, even if they had been told they probably wouldn’t remember… This makes this story and its truth kind of timeless because you learn the truth and you’re like ‘wait a minute… wait a goddamn minute… how long has this been going on?’ There’s no way for you to say exactly. It has the potential to be timeless, or in the very least it means the pandemic may have happened centuries and centuries ago. *POW* Mind blown…

One cool and annoying thing is that these characters, through their mottos and mantras tell you the reveal throughout the film, but you don’t see it until the end, for example “everyone has their place”… or “in a world of madness, we have found order”. It’s that choice of words which doesn’t seem important until you get to the end, and you realise that these choices of words are vital. ‘Found’? Not created order, but found…

And the last thing is that with the exception of the matriarch and Evie, it seems – and again you don’t discover this until the end – that everyone has actually succumbed to ‘The Shred’. The fact that these stories are able to be rewritten so many times by this ‘family’ kind of proves that. It also broadens the meaning of ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ you initially come to understand and definitely makes it a hell of a lot less creepy.. and it also explains why there is never a patriarch mentioned. Because we are told they are a family I wondered about this, but it turns out there IS no patriarch because they’re not actually family(!) At least, that’s my theory.

I could honestly think about this film for days so I will just leave it there and close off by saying that this film is incredible. Beautifully shot. Really well acted. Creepy and twisted in many ways. Concept and the script are excellent. I’m gonna be thinking about this film for some time. A+, would watch again.

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