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The Space Thriller That's Dominating Netflix's Top 10 Right Now

Netflix's latest sci-fi thriller is currently burning up the streaming service's daily Top 10 chart in the United States, reaching the #3 on the list in its first day of release. The film, "Stowaway," is a claustrophobic thriller about people faced with impossible choices.

The film tells the story of a three-person mission to Mars that's scheduled to take two years. The commander is Marina Barnett (Toni Collette, using her natural Australian accent), and the crew members are biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick). The launch goes well, and everyone is feeling good — until Marina discovers that the ship has an accidental stowaway, Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson), a launch technician who got knocked out on the ship before liftoff and is now trapped onboard. They're too far along to turn back, but the presence of a fourth person on the ship means there isn't enough oxygen for all of them, so the passengers will have to choose which one of them dies.

It's a philosophical, talky sort of thriller, where much of the tension comes from the characters' differing perspectives on how to handle this life-and-death situation. Which is not to say there isn't some action, too, but we wouldn't want to spoil it.

Stowaway is a compelling morality play in space

The film is directed by Joe Penna. It's Penna's second film. His first was the 2018 survival drama "Arctic," in which Mads Mikkelsen plays a man stranded in the Arctic Circle. Penna is establishing himself as a writer-director who specializes in thoughtful movies with small casts about people trying to figure out how to survive — and who survives — in extraordinarily difficult situations. He wrote the script with Ryan Morrison, with whom he also wrote "Arctic." Morrison also edited the film. The writers took pains to make sure the film's science is as accurate as possible, consulting with YouTube astrophysics commentator Scott Manley on the design of the spaceship and the mission plan, as Manley explained in a YouTube video.

The film is getting mostly positive reviews from critics. It has a 77% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes. TV Guide's Jordan Hoffman called it "a bit of a slow-burn, but it more than makes up for it in its realism," and singled out its sound design for the way it communicates action without expensive special effects. In a more critical review, The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck called it "too restrained for its own good," but praised the cast's performances and Volker Bertelmann's eerie score.

"Stowaway" is a well-made moral and ethical drama. There's much to enjoy, as long as you go into it expecting something more like "Sophie's Choice" than "Gravity."