Film review by Jason Day of Life, the sci-fi thriller starring Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson
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During a mission to rescue a precious sample of ancient microbial life from the planet Mars, a crew of scientists are left battling for their own lives as the organism grows and gains intelligence. It escapes, attacking them in order to survive and make its way to Earth.
Review, by Jason Day
Director Daniel Espinosa re-teams with his Safe House (2012) star Ryan Reynolds for this busy, panicky sci-fi horror, presumably hoping for some box office glory after his critically mauled Child 44 (2014) tanked at international cinemas.
He gets in early from the opening scene (filmed in a Birdman manner as a seemingly continuous take), with some sly visual pointers to the genesis of life. In silhouette, the long space station’s solar panels dangle down like chromosomes. The craft slightly resembles a length of DNA, perversely used a vehicle to start the extermination of mankind.
Fittingly, it is only when life is instilled in the creature named ‘Calvin’ that the title of the film is spelled out on screen. Its name comes from a high school named after American President Calvin Coolidge, but could more appropriately be linked to the 16th century theologian John Calvin, who mentioned eternal life and spiritual regeneration in his writing. Calvin here has lived a long, sleepy life and is at least scientifically reanimated.
Wrapped up as they are in their experimental jiggery-pokery (written with that deliciously logical question and answering that only a sci-fi script can get away with) these cosmonautical Frankenstein’s are oblivious to crew member Shinto’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) earth-bound wife giving birth naturally, at the very moment Calvin tentatively reaches out itself.
Life is not the scariest of outer space movies. A jellylike starfish wibbles around for a bit causing a kerfuffle and there are a small number of vaguely taut moments, but that’s about it. Calvin is though an invasive, gropey kind of alien, wrapping his fleshy tentacles around the astronauts with slow, greasy intent, slipping them in their mouths and between their legs. These moments should be enough to have you squirming in your seat.
But what Espinosa and the writers don’t deliver in terms of thrills, they do in spills and pull off a smashing surprise ending. Some viewers may find this silly, but the suspension of disbelief they achieve in a film with hardly any shock and awe is commendable.
It is, however, a very talkative movie. For the better part of the first half, there is an almost constant stream of dialogue. Of course, there is a potential disaster unfolding in the station’s laboratory so one would expect communication between colleagues, but does it have to clod-hop with such logical accuracy? A always leads to B in such movies, but a writer can always play a little with their story and characters. In Life, we have what sounds like an extended conversation lifted from NASA’s ‘What to do if an alien life form takes over a space station – guidance for terrified astronauts‘.
We have some interesting people onboard, but precious little is done with exploring them although in sci-fi, people are usually nothing more than alien chomping fodder.
No matter though as, at 103 mins, this is a brief and for the most part tight and jam-packed trip above the stratosphere.
See the official trailer on the official Skydance website.
Cast & credits
Director: Daniel Espinosa. 103 mins. Columbia/Skydance/Sony Pictures. (15)
Producers: Bonnie Curtis, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Julie Lynn.
Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick.
Camera: Seamus McGarvey.
Music: Jon Ekstrand.
Sets: Nigel Phelps.
Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare.