This boat struggles to stay afloat
Smaller budget filmmaking has always been about maximizing what resources are available to you. Legendary shoestring producer and mentor Roger Corman famously would get access to a distinctive location, say a castle, and then attempt to make as many films as he could in that space before his access dried up. This sort of flexible thinking had a major resurgence over the past two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and filmmakers having to make lemonade out of lemons, keeping spaces and staff small as a means to avoid potential spread.
It is hard to watch a film like Stowaway, the new film starring Ruby Rose and debuting this Friday on AMC+, and not be at least partially distracted by the confines by which it was made. After the opening 20 minutes, the action is mostly confined to a singular location, a luxury yacht, and the cast is kept fairly lean. Given these constraints, it amplifies what is less, relying on your performances, script and general storytelling tools to amplify what can feel micro into something macro. Unfortunately, Stowaway doesn’t rise to those challenges, and is left with a slog of a thriller that struggles to keep its audience captive amid a myriad of issues.
Rose plays Bella Denton, a restless drifter who gets a call from a stranger (Frank Grillo) that her estranged father has died. And all he left her behind was his boat the Bella, a luxury yacht that is docked along the Gulf coast in Mississippi. But when she attempts to spend a night on her new boat with a stranger she meets at a bar, the yacht is stolen by a group of mercenaries that appear to have a connection with her father’s unknown past.
This is more or less the entire plot of the film that can be divulged without getting into third act twists and surprises. Thus the weight of the film’s potency is firmly placed upon its actors, but the end effect from almost everyone involved is mostly lethargic. Rose in particular never fully communicates the fear or panic the circumstances would suggest, staying at the flat and disaffected level that Bella is initially introduced at. It makes her journey throughout her crisis harder to connect with, and it isn’t assisted by Rose slipping in and out of her Australian accent, a struggle I can’t remember her having before.
The gang of mercenaries don’t fare much better. The two main bads, played by brothers and frequent collaborators Scott and Danny Bohnen, have a natural easiness with each other but rarely rise to feeling especially threatening. More effective is Luis De Silva Jr. as Lawson, the Captain of the boat who is a less willing accomplice. He communicates the sense of panic and nervousness that being involved in a heist like this against your will would suggest. He carries a wiry energy the film needs, but it also undercuts how much a slog everything else feels like by comparison.
What makes this languid pacing, even at a lean 90 minutes, even more frustrating is the film attempts to withhold information at attempt as mystery, only for the final revelations to underwhelm both in their predictability and lackluster reveal. The biggest twist of the film feels self-evident early on, to the point where it would be more shocking if what was already apparent was not the case, rather than verifying the viewer’s suspicions. But Stowaway is not especially interested in being surprising. It is a depressed, lazy thriller that is in no hurry to get to its next increase in tension, but would rather just kind of hang out on its boat.