Director: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds
Release Date: 24 Mar
Life sets out (initially, at least) to answer the question that has plagued message boards and YouTube comments for the last five years: What if the crew of the Prometheus hadn’t been absolute morons?
Daniel Espinosa’s sci-fi/horror owes an awful lot to Ridley Scott’s genre-defining Alien franchise and one can’t help but note Life’s release just two months before Scott’s Alien: Covenant.
Similarities are bountiful but how does the film stand up to one of the best sci-fi films ever made?
If you’ve ever seen a science fiction film before in your…ahem… life, you should be fairly clued in as to what’s about to go down:
A crew aboard the International Space Station are tasked with studying soil samples collected from a Mars probe. When the crew discover an extra-terrestrial organism (dubbed “Calvin” by school kids on earth, a far cry from “Xenomorph”), in one of the samples, it’s not long before things go horribly wrong and crew members get dispatched with ruthless efficiency.
Life begins very promisingly with an impressive, exciting long-take of the Mars probe’s retrieval. The crew are on edge as they attempt to grab the probe out of the sky as it hurtles toward them.
Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography owes more to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity than anything else, giving his camera a fluid, buoyant feel as it floats through the Space Station.
After retrieval, we switch immediately to pornographically-detailed close-ups during the study of the Martian soil samples and the organism within, shots that seem more befitting of a science documentary than a Hollywood movie. The team seem competent, adhering to rigorous quarantine protocols (Alien: Covenant crew, take note) as they study the rapidly-growing life-form.
As the study continues, the organism grows stronger and smarter, eventually breaking free of the station’s laboratory.
Unfortunately, this opening one-two combo of visually dynamic sequences are the high-points of Life, which rapidly falls back on established sci-fi movie conventions to see it through the rest of its run-time.
Characters are extremely thin on the ground, especially considering the small cast of only 6 main actors. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool) deliver a script leaning so heavily on genre archetypes (Ryan Reynolds as the hothead mechanic, Rebecca Ferguson’s suspicious team leader, Jake Gyllenhaal’s meek doctor) that it dissipates any notion that what you’re watching might do anything new with the subject matter.
The aforementioned cast are given very little of substance to work with as the creature chases them through the ship. Ferguson, in particular, who turned in excellent work in Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, feels underused but with dialogue like “Calvin’s getting through the airlock!”, it feels unfair to blame her.
Pacing is also an issue, with the film reaching a logical climax in the form of an intense action set-piece as a vessel docks with the Space Station. Life then trudges on for a further half hour in what feels like an endless chase scene down identical corridors. You can only watch an airlock door slam shut so many times before you’re begging for the film to wrap things up.
None of this is to say that Life is bad, it’s just all been done before and to better effect. Comparisons to Alien, although obvious, are almost mandatory when that film set the bar so high almost forty years ago.
Surprisingly, the film does eventually deliver. In a wry final sequence, Espinosa injects some much-appreciated irony that almost elevates Life above a generic Alien imitator.
If the rest of of the film showed the same clever streak, there’d be a lot more to recommend. As is, fans of the genre should be able to extract enjoyment from this solid, if predictable, film.
Written by Julian Callan