-Although clearly an Alien knock-off, Life hits on several levels to deliver a nice sci-fi experience.
Life is a movie that seems committed to its science fiction elements from the outset, providing us with a location inside this space station to access the work that our group of scientists are performing. In addition to this traditional sci-fi method of demonstrating space weightlessness and talking about different technical aspects of their duty that is lost on a layperson, this movie is equally committed to its horror, throwing us into a second hour of sheer terror after a slow first act.
Our scientists are a group of six astronauts, the senior medical officer: Jake Gyllenhaal, the quarantine specialist: Rebecca Ferguson, ship mechanic: Ryan Reynolds, pilot: Hiroyuki Sanada, biologist: Ariyon Bakare, and commander: Olga Dihovichnaya. They are stationed in the International Space Station, awaiting the arrival of a soil sample on a pod from Mars. Once they receive it, they are equipped to analyze any potential life in the samples, isolated away from taking it to Earth and risking contamination. When they begin tampering with the atmosphere in the controlled experiment in order to wake a dormant single celled organism, it begins to reproduce, growing into a small creature that is virtually indestructible. As our crew attempts to ensure it never reaches Earth, the small creature (named “Calvin”) begins picking off the crew members in increasingly insane ways.
Now, there are clear parallels to Ridley Scott’s classic Alien film from 1979. The concept of deep space is terrifying, as if a potential escape from a threat is confined to the small tunnels of the space station. It’s hardly a hiding place at all. Several times in this movie, characters were attempting to flee and isolate themselves from the creature, and it’s very hard to be successful when everything is open corridors; it’s not like they can run outside. So, in the sense that the creature is violent and begins killing the crew members, yes, it is clearly a tribute to Alien, but the film acknowledges it in a few scenes where it feels like the outcome is obvious because of how it went down in Alien, but director Daniel Espinosa keeps the material fresh enough to be entertaining.
The film is very committed to portraying the weightlessness of the station as well. All of the characters jump and zip around the corridors at constant speeds, and it does a nice job in having them attempt to try non-instinctual movements to avoid ‘Calvin.’ There’s also a nice line where one of the scientists remark that she feels pure hatred for the creature after it kills a crew-member. You kind-of feel the same way. You can acknowledge that this creature really isn’t sentient, it just wants to eliminate any threats in its environment, but you do begin to loathe it.
Some of the gore (floating gore!) is nice, and there are a few scenes that were so tense, I viewed them through splayed fingers. The first act is slow, filled with ‘science-talk,’ and the characters are very one-dimensional to the point where we could clearly use more time with them. But, Espinosa realizes that the strength of the film isn’t in the people, it’s in the tension and horror/sci-fi elements. Because of this, we speed along the introductions in order to get right to the good stuff, and the first twenty-five minutes are a dud. I wasn’t really enjoying the first act at all until we finally see the creature for real. Once the more thrilling aspects begin, the film really kicks up the heat, and goes from being something extremely standard to something a bit more exciting. I don’t really mind that it was formulaic and featured a very predictable ending. The middle-hour journey to get to where we ended up was so fun and scary, I can’t really complain about a wooden opening and overstated ending.
Director: Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44, Easy Money)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Ryan Reynolds
RT Score: 67%