Synopsis – A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
My Take – Judging from the trailer this film looked like yet another sci-fi/horror film about survival in space with a surprisingly known cast, headlined by A lister Jake Gyllenhaal, Mission Impossible break out star Rebecca Ferguson and back in form Ryan Reynolds (post the massive success of Deadpool), who seemed to be out for quick pay check, hence, So I went in expecting nothing, and I have to say I was very pleased by this surprisingly exciting film. Yes, it’s predictable as hell, full of clichés and at times, damn insane, but for a film that looks to effectively borrow the premise of Gravity and Alien, this Daniel Espinosa film is actually a very well-directed, well-acted and entertaining sci-fi horror. With The film balances sci-fi, horror, and thriller elements throughout and there are definitely a few “gross-out” scenes that could make you a bit squeamish and also, it’s a bit of a one note show, but with a threatening villain that works well throughout, and a rapid pace, it’s the sort of film that’ll definitely make you tense, even if it’s not quite the edge-of-your-seat thriller it could be.
The story follows a six member crew lead by the stoic captain Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) and consisting of the crew’s every jolly mechanic Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), a CDC rep, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), with concealed motives and protocols for handling the situation, Dr. Dave Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a gaunt military veteran about to break the record for most days in space and doesn’t plan on going back to Earth, Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), the scientist tasked with personally handling the organism, with an uncomfortable fixation on the discovery’s survival and communications officer Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada), on an International Space Station (ISS), the actual low-orbit lab, research facility, and factory, who are tasked with retrieving a probe which contains samples from Mars. At 1st the retrieved specimen seems to be in suspended animation, but awakens after Hugh makes some changes in the containment it is stored in. Several astronauts and scientists recover specimens from Mars and attempt to study them. A particularity specimen initially appears to be in suspended animation, but awakens after being provided conditions that may support life. The specimen slows grows and takes a life of its own, proving to be highly adaptable and intelligent, as well as willing to kill to insure its survival. Conditions inside the International Space Station become lethal very quickly, and the astronauts are forced to fight for their lives. Yet at the same time they must balance the need to fulfill their mission as well as their duty to protect the rest of mankind on earth from the hostile alien life. The first half of this film is tangled with a web of mystery that unravels in its second half. Director Espinosa delivers a thriller that keeps you at the edge of your seat, by making us wonder who will be next and who will survive. Once the pretense of awe and wonder is dropped, the film gets down to business, sending crew members scrambling across the station, closing hatches, trying (in Martian parlance) to science the shit out of their dilemma. “Calvin,” as some grade-schoolers back home name the hostile bastard, grows rapidly into a murderous space octopus, slipping through tight spaces, crunching bones in its clammy embrace, and swimming in the low gravity like a hungry shark in open water. The beast is more interesting, certainly, than his prey: the carelessly curious and paraplegic scientist; the haunted war veteran; the proud new father. Hired mostly to bob and weave through a meticulous recreation of ISS, the overqualified cast nonetheless takes this hokum dead seriously—though Ryan Reynolds, reunited with the screenwriters of his Deadpool, gets to break the tension with a few wisecracks. I know it sounds cliché if you think about it, I mean, a survival story in space, a concept that has been done over and over again, especially when the original 1979 Ridley Scott film is still considered a classic. However, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, have a tendency to to add life to classic stories. On the one hand, it doesn’t quite have the unique haunted house feel of Alien, but on the other, it takes the formula and makes it work very well from start to finish. The film does have plenty of thrills, as characters are trying to figure a way to eliminate Calvin and avoiding the alien from reaching Earth even if it requires they sacrifice their lives. What makes the thrills, Is the space station being small and tight corridors with the alien freely roaming and killing characters off.
Running at a brisk time of 103 minutes, the film never slows down. It reminded me a lot of 2013’s Gravity in that way. The only time these films stopped to breathe was to add subtle but vital character depth to the story. Scene after scene is filled with terror, intrigue, and impressively shot action. The plot familiarities aside, director Espinosa manages to deliver his concept at a clip, with some assured cinematography, smooth VFX design, and solid performances from his doomed crew. The film starts well enough, with an almost taunting momentousness. There’s a smooth five-minute single take that hovers through the ISS as we meet the crew that makes the film feel like it wants to resemble an “event” film. As the crew first realizes what they have on board, the film’s title pops up, 15 minutes in, with 2001-esque font choices and a radiant score that’s too amusing and self-aware to deny. The film succeeds in nicely timed long takes, shocking deaths, and in capturing the terror of the creature, even though it doesn’t always nail the emotionally gripping sequences. Some characters feel more clichéd than others, but at least they resemble people, with stories and motivations, possessing the oft-absent quality of characterization in a horror film. For what it’s worth, Daniel Espinosa’s film, while totally born from the same stars as many other films, still lands about half the time. Oh sure, the film’s crew is full of morons, and the plot has its share of black holes. Although I love it when a good plan fails over and over again, that was not the case in this film. Most of the decisions seemed like they would not have been made by professional scientist and astronauts. These people should have been trained to deal with any situation, even a breach in quarantine. But apparently they never trained for any of these situations. In Alien, the crew were just work-class civilians who just happened to stumble upon something extra-terrestrial, they were people like you and me, this made all their decisions the same as we would make them, improving on the dread and hopelessness of the situation. For as much as it gussies up with the ‘necessary’ techno babble, the film has a nasty edge, a visceral mean streak, that’s genuinely bracing. The ending, for one, plays cruelly on the optimistic imagery of another recent space thriller (and on one of the choice soundtrack cuts of a recent space opera). And then there’s the earlier scene where the monster manages to thrust itself down one of these poor astronauts’ gullets, making short and squishy work of what’s inside. We don’t see much, but we don’t need to, because lord, the sounds. In space, no one can hear you scream. In space films, every dying gurgle comes through loud and clear. The oddly disappointing aspects become clear when you take a look at the talent involved as with so much going for it one expects a less derivative and more unique film. We’re almost led to believe that there is something more than the Alien aspect in the film, but there isn’t. Ryan Reynolds’ character, though credited as a lead and likable, disappears fairly early into the film. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers what could be the worst performance of his career, with a back-story shoehorned in the most unintentionally hilarious way possible. Rebecca Ferguson is the stock female character who stands around explaining fairly obvious things to the audience. The other three, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya and Ariyon Bakare are alright. On the whole, ‘Life’ is one heck of a thrill ride, which despite being more predictable than it should have been, is an intriguing piece of entertainment.
Directed – Daniel Espinosa
Rated – R
Run Time – 103 minutes