Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds
I seem to have developed a bit of fetish for the horror/thrillers genre recently and next on my list is Life by Daniel Espinosa. It’s a clear Alien homage, which never quite hits anywhere near the heights of that classic. That’s not to say it’s a terrible film, it’s absolutely not. It’s visually beautiful, has a great ending and has it’s fair share of tense moments in between, but it lacks some originality and falls into the familiar pattern of the genre.
Taking place on the ISS (International Space Station), it follows the travails of six astronauts/scientists as they at first discover and then study a single cell organism hailing all the way from Mars. Things start off fine and dandy for the crew. Well after Rory’s (Ryan Reynolds) nervous, near death collision with the probe carrying the life-form at least. Hugh (Ariyon Bakare), the resident scientist begins trying to reanimate the alien organism almost immediately, finally succeeding after changing atmospheric conditions to mimic pre-historic Earth. They even give their new pet Alien the cute nickname Calvin.
Of course, things don’t remain this calm for long. It would be a pretty boring film and not much of a sci-fi thriller if it did. Things take a turn for the worst after the little organism begins displaying rapid, accelerated, growth and signs of keen intelligence. This only seems to concern Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), who briefly narrates to the viewer, telling them as much, following a minor mishap involving a lab valve with Hugh that leaves the life-form in a temporary stasis. Her relief at its halted growth is short lived however when a guilt ridden Hugh decides to shock the creature back into action. The shit hits the proverbial fan at this point and one of the crew goes down in gruesome fashion (the first and certainly not the last) shortly thereafter.
The film then plays out like your archetypal horror/thriller thereafter with members of the crew dropping like flies, as Calvin grows ever larger, feasting on the fresh corpses of his victims. There’s the usual acts of stupidity you frequently see in this genre, which can be forgiven when it’s a regular pleb in a house, but you expect more these supposed intellectually superior astronauts. That’s reading like a absolutely hated this film, I know. Again, I have to stress, absolutely not the case at all. I actually quite enjoyed it. Just don’t expect any realistic, scientific, recreation here, much like Gravity, which shared a similar setting. It’s a horror film that’s very deliberately set in the extremely claustrophobic surroundings of a space station.
With that said, some of the choices the characters and film made did annoy my slightly. Whether it be Kat’s indefensible decision to not just push off from the station whilst being mauled by Calvin on a spacewalk; Sho’s harebrained choice to burn up nearly all the fuel, sending them into a decaying orbit in a fruitless effort to keep the alien outside; David (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miranda’s lack of empathy or will to save Sho when he was stranded on his own and they could clearly track Calvin; and the inconsistencies in the latter’s ability to survive with or without oxygen. At one point it’s outside in the vacuum of space for a sustained period, surviving just fine and then it’s desperately scrambling around in search of oxygen to sustain its life.
In terms of performances, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson see the most screen time and development, although even then there isn’t a great deal of the latter, which was another slight letdown. Gyllenhaal and Ferguson did a decent enough job here, the former was slightly passive aggressive throughout mind, but he played the role well enough. Ryan Reynolds had a brief cameo, which is about as much as I can say on that. The rest were more filler than anything else, who you fully expected to die as the film progressed. Maybe Hugh played by Bakare being the exception with a slightly meatier role. I wasn’t a fan of the character though and the emotionless delivery of the line “We’ve just let it back in here” summed him up for me.
Having said that, I enjoyed the early moments in the film as it built up the tension and the claustrophobic uneasiness of the middle act, in the confined corridors of the station, as the ravenous Alien roamed around unchecked, picking them off at random. The twist at the end was incredible too and one of the best I’ve seen in a long, long while. I genuinely didn’t expect it, despite the film hinting quite heavily in that direction, which is predominantly down to the excellent way that Espinosa handled the scene. It reminded me of The Dark Knight rescue twist in the way it kept the viewer on the edge of their seats right until the end.
Whilst I did enjoy aspects of this film and it kept me relatively engrossed until the end, it wasn’t anywhere near being what you sensed it attempted to be. I.e. An Alien clone. It lacked the character development of that film, which meant there was literally zero connection to any of them and I wasn’t fussed when they died. It was visually amazing however and the zero gravity shots were stunningly realistic, whilst the alien, Calvin, was well brought to life and interacted beautifully with the ‘real’ things on screen. Overall, I would recommend this film. Despite my minor grievances (I’m a tad anal at times), it’s a decent little, horror that should be seen for the final scene alone.