Published on March 24th, 2017 | by Damien Straker
Life – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on the 24th of March 2017
Sony presents a film by Daniel Espinosa
Produced by David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn
Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya
Music by Jon Ekstrand
Cinematography Seamus McGarvey
Edited by Frances Parker and Mary Jo Markey
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: the 23rd of March 2017
When Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Mission Impossible’s Rebecca Ferguson agreed to make this film did they read the script or just an outline? Why was this made at all? This will look great on our resumes after Gravity (2013) and The Martian (2015) they thought. The truth is that Life is an Alien knock-off and a carbon copy of every retro sci-fi film ever made about the dangers of life in space. It has detailed space scenes and sets but no original ideas of its own to stand upon.
The film’s space crew consists of six members who have recently returned from Mars and discovered an alien life form, which is nicknamed Calvin. The crews consists of David (Gyllenhaal), Roy (Reynolds), Miranda (Ferguson), Kat (Olga Dihovichnaya), Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada), who is awaiting the birth of his child, and Hugh (Ariyon Bakare), who is initially protective of Calvin. Calvin is shaped similar to a jellyfish and its goo-like form is flexible and strong enough to wrap itself around the wrist of one of the crew members to trap him. This is something already shown or spoilt in one of the film’s trailers.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44), the film has the look of an impressive tech demo or more accurately a beautiful shell. It opens with a smooth, single-take tracking shot through the narrow corridor of the spaceship and the space station outside is beautiful and expansive. There’s no faulting the detail of the spacecraft’s interior and its technology either. The animation of Calvin is also creepy, particularly in the film’s most unnerving image of what it does to a lab rat. Its disturbing and effective because we haven’t seen it before.
Yet despite the growing intelligence of Calvin and the effects, the number of times we’ve relived this plot is immeasurable. The narrative’s content and layout makes the film too much of a copy of what’s come before it. The creature seems interesting and harmless to some of the crew but then breaks free and starts butchering them. It enlarges and then pursues the others inside and outside of the ship, racing towards them as they close shutter doors and access drains in its face. Its unashamedly a genre film, serious and polished in those terms, but lacking its own gimmick or hook.
There’s nothing original about these action beats at all. One could argue that its an ancient plot that long predates Alien, going as far back as Georges Melies’ A Trip To the Moon (1902), which saw a crew travel into space and then fight aliens. The only difference now is that the advancement in special effects renders aliens in far greater detail, which is supposed to make them scarier.
Horror is also about confronting the unfamiliar. This worked for Alien because people hadn’t seen anything as vicious and terrifying as a Xenomorph on screen before. How do you destroy something you’ve never confronted before? Now the end goal of films like Life is always the same and therefore less scary: the crew must find a way to destroy Calvin before they return to Earth. The lone thematic idea is the dangers of discovering new lifeforms but then it merely becomes a slasher or haunted house movie in space. Overall, there’s little tension in watching a shallow imitation of what’s been done better in the past.
Life is also terribly impersonal. The paper-thin characters are boring and lack backstory and personality. Only Ryan Reynolds’ trademark smart-arse quips provide much joy from the banter of the crew. Lousy dialogue (“It’s hard watching people die”) filters from the other actors’ mouths in the dreary character scenes.
Alien found unique ways to pace its beats out from each other to give the film a unique, slow-burning, tense rhythm. Comparatively, Life lazily follows a formula and doesn’t give us enough reason to care about the characters as they are predictably torn down. The film’s ending, which won’t be spoilt, is meant to be a surprise too, but there’s a shot that lingers so long on the shuttle that it telegraphs the twist. This is sadly an apt summary for the film itself.
Summary: It has detailed space scenes and sets but no original ideas of its own to stand upon.