Directed by Daniel Espinosa.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Ariyon Bakare.
A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station whose mission of discovery turns to one of primal fear when they find a rapidly evolving life form that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
For being scientists, doctors, and astronauts, the crew aboard the ISS (International Space Station) aren’t very street smart or good with common sense. Early on in Life (directed by Daniel Espinosa, who has a mediocre track record with forgettable films such as Child 44 and Safe House under his belt), wisecracking technical guru Roy (Ryan Reynolds collaborating again with Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) is determined he can kill the highly intelligent and swift moving living organism by repeatedly burning it with spacecraft engineering tools (this segment is actually very reminiscent of the survival horror found in the Dead Space video games) even though there is not a shred of evidence the extraterrestrial life form is suffering damage.
Without saying much regarding who lives and who dies, Life is the style of science fiction/horror experience that actively has you rooting for the blood-lusting invincible alien simply because the alternative is letting stupidity walk away victorious. However, it should be noted that as the film goes on the crew does smarten up, doing their damnedest to outthink the Mars-found alien life form dubbed Calvin, but they still are no match for what they are up against. That goes doubly true when factoring in that Calvin evolves into a much larger organism quickly over time (as if he wasn’t already deadly enough). It’s like Roy quips, this is some Reanimator shit.
If it wasn’t obvious already, Calvin is the most interesting character in the movie. All of the humans in Life are very cliché archetypes each with their own exposition dump towards the beginning of the movie, never worrying about developing them further. Aside from casting Ryan Reynolds as the comedic relief, the other brilliant choice here is nominating Jake Gyllenhaal to play a somewhat emotionally distant doctor who prefers living in isolation from Earth up above in space with a family of friends there, all due to having witnessed the horrors of war repairing soldiers. It’s the kind of role that the actor has absolutely owned lately, proving worthy of Oscar nominations on multiple occasions that unfortunately have not been handed out yet. His character in Life is nowhere near that robust, but the performance works for the screenwriters’ intended personality. Also aboard is your typical soon-to-be father (yawn) and the most criminally wasted character, who is a very intriguing disabled biologist that enjoys the mobile freedom gravity provides. Rebecca Ferguson also plays the team leader who is not a damsel in distress; she is capable of holding her own just like the men.
It’s a double-edged sword that Reese and Wernick opt for the route of keeping their characters simple. Sure, there isn’t much for us to invest in, but realistically who is coming to see a movie about an alien picking off astronauts one by one expecting a deep character study? Both the direction and script seem aware of this, making Life a winner of a film by focusing on Calvin. As previously mentioned, it’s intelligent and goes through numerous visual transformations (he kind of looks like an alien jellyfish with tentacles, and is assuredly terrifying and rendered with impressive CGI), but even kills in sinister ways. Death often comes slow and painful, as Calvin clearly enjoys tightly wrapping himself around bodies to squeeze the life out, and sometimes burrowing deep inside a person by entering their throat. Disgusting stuff, but sickeningly awesome to behold.
And naturally, considering that Life is set in space, it allows the filmmakers to add visual flair to the experience. Characters float around the space station pivoting around corners as the camera often tracks them through each section. Of course, there are moments where the action is taken outside the vessel into space itself, which paves the way for some gorgeous shot composition that resembles Gravity at times, but just less technologically remarkable. Still, Life is a beautiful film to look at, even when blood is spilling all over the place suspended in midair.
The film also wastes no time getting right into the suspense and dread. The organism is recovered in a pre-credits sequence, and it isn’t long from there before the situation inevitably and obviously goes south. Following that, it’s only a question of who dies next and who survives, which is actually tough to call thanks to the film boasting a star-studded cast that once again includes the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and Rebecca Ferguson. Yes, there are also some lesser-known names, but you would be a fool to think that the filmmakers don’t have the restraint or balls to kill off one of the A-listers first.
Regardless, this is Calvin’s movie, and he is out for blood. That’s life, it’s a bitch. Ignore the fact that the protagonists have seemingly never seen Alien or any movie about astronauts fighting for their lives in space, instead reveling in the palpable tension that comes from watching the prey hunted. Generic characters and story aside, Life is definitely a suspenseful, blood-drenched affair filled with familiar faces that will satisfy those looking to waste 103 minutes.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★