Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ryan Reynolds, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare
At the rate Hollywood is turning out space films, there isn’t much left to discover in the genre it seems. Director Daniel Espinosa (“Child 44”) certainly makes a run at it though, re-teaming with his “Safe House” star Ryan Reynolds. “Life” is an action thriller, it’s sort of a contagion film mixed with all the usual things that go wrong in space. The script uses the basic horror movie design, many characters who serve more as numbered victims against a villain they don’t understand and can’t stop. “Life” is engaging because of its frightening lifeform is smarter than humans, combined with enough suspense to keep you around for the conclusion. The script offers a few little moments we haven’t seen in a space flick before, but ultimately the lack of character development is its biggest obstacle.
A group of scientists and doctors are eagerly awaiting the capture of a space unit that is bringing back a microscopic life-form from the red planet. The Mars Pilgrim Mission is the most advanced space exploration yet, but the most important goal is to safely quarantine whatever it is they find. Hugh Derry (Bakare) brings the organism to life, and the crew is astounded to watch the interaction, intelligence and growth. “It’s curiosity outweighs fear,” Derry explains. It’s the crew that becomes fearful when this alien, nicknamed Calvin, becomes uncontrollable and breaks their first firewall level. Pilot David Jordan (Gyllenhaal) and Quarantine Officer Miranda North (Ferguson) must work fast to react to Calvin’s intelligence.
The lack of character development is its biggest obstacle.
“Life” works as a sort of battleship game between the crew versus this creature. The script is heavy on the technical side, trying to impress the viewer with scientific information in order to make this science fiction horror film seem more real. They should have instead spent that time on developing the characters further. Giving Gyllenhaal more profound things to say besides, “It’s hard to watch people die”, would have been a huge help for the viewers to care more about these people. Although audiences just here for the action scenes will be pleased it cuts to the chase rather quickly. At one point Ryan Reynolds character goes complete Ghostbuster-proton pack against the creature. Throughout the film, it’s stressed very clearly that Calvin can never get to Earth, no matter what they must sacrifice.
Clearly inspired by the “Alien” series, “Life” shows us death in a way we haven’t seen on a spaceship before. In one scene, a character is bleeding profusely and red bubbles float all over the screen. I also think this is the first time I have seen a defibrillator used in space. Those details are minor compared to the recall of superior space films, “Gravity” for instance, has ruined all other space movies as far as suspenseful spacewalks and ship repairs are concerned. “Life” thinks it’s smarter than it actually is, even with an ending that’s completely predictable if you follow the dialogue and understand how irony works in horror movies. It’s mediocre thrills with good talent involved that with some lowered expectations, still might be a fun night at the movies.
Far from profound or original but Life offers a few thrills and chills.