Director : Daniel Espinosa
Year Of Release : 2017
Principal Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya.
Approx Running Time : 114 Minutes
Synopsis: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
Pulse pounding space fun doesn’t get more thrilling than Life, a resoundingly terrifying (if utterly implausible) voyage into our first encounter with an alien lifeform that proceeds to kill off the various members of the International Space Station that discover it. Like most great sci-fi films, the aliens are either benign or malevolent, and in Life, they are most definitely the latter; emerging from a single-cell organism into a full-blown starfish-shaped killing machine with incredible intelligence and survival skills (because what else, really) seems to run counter to the laws of science, but then again, have you ever seen a platypus? Bounding cleanly over plot holes and nightmarish situational terror, Life is crisply directed by Safe House helmer Daniel Espinosa (re-teaming with Ryan Reynolds) and offers decent white-knuckle thrills, some excellent zero-G filming and an alien that takes absolutely no prisoners.
Aboard the International Space Station, a team of six astronauts are about to make a startling discovery – a returning Mars space probe contains the first sample of extraterrestrial life. Exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) “wakes” a dormant cell, which manages to spawn itself into a complex organism that escapes, and begins to maraud the vessel, growing stronger and smater with each passing minute. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhall – Donnie Darko), system engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool), and quarantine officer Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) must make crucial life-and-death decisions in dealing with the exceptionally vicious creature, trying desperately to prevent it making its way to Earth.
Space thrills have found themselves mined almost to death in recent times, from garbage junk like Apollo 18 and Europa Report, to solid mainstream blockbusters such as Gravity and The Martian, and Life falls somewhere in the middle. The premise is pure B-movie, a group of humans stuck inside a tin can floating in space having to defend themselves against imminent destruction at the hands of a dastardly creature. The human characters are pretty generic, stock-standard genre types that offer negligible development (although one, Japanese pilot Sho, played by Hiroyuki Sanada, watches his wife give birth to their first child over skype, so warm fuzzies) and their fate isn’t so much about them as it is another step closer to the creature getting planetside and wreaking havoc.
Director Espinosa chose to avoid worrying too much about his human characters and instead rockets the film along into its core narrative as a survivalist thriller. Minimal development early on allows the film’s relatively brief running time (it’s a solid 90+ minutes of thrills with virtually no flab to be seen anywhere) to get the audience into the mix almost immediately – a lengthy single-take shot of Ryan Reynolds’ Rory Adams to “catch” the incoming Mars probe is visceral and potent, allowing the audience to acclimate to the film’s aesthetic quickly – and thanks to a pulsating, driving score by Swedish maestro Jon Ekstrand, the film is a continual flourish of set-pieces and gasping surprises.
Perhaps the biggest issue I had with Life was the alien of the piece. Comparisons to Ridley Scott’s seminal Alien are inevitable, both within Life’s structure and the development of its central villain, although it’s fair to suggest Espinosa’s film deviates significantly with tone and direction. Life’s a quick burn, whereas Alien was a slow-cooked roast of a film, and Espinosa ain’t Ridley Scott. The alien of Life is an indistinct, hard-to-fathom creature that seemingly lives to kill, but also one with an unimaginably powerful intelligence. The alien’s physiology isn’t well described or understood (at least by me) and it seems to be some manner of super-creature that’s impervious to not only flame and steel but the cold vacuum of space, which makes it a pretty formidable adversary. It manifests from single-cell to killer creature within the span of a single cut-scene, and grows from the size of a small kitten to something resembling a massive lotus butterfly even faster. It’s also incredibly strong, stronger per-inch of frame than most Earth animals, and the fictional elements of “sci-fi” come to play in a manner that doesn’t quite feel legitimate. Sure, it represents a challenge for the orbiting astronauts, but the rapidity in which the creature evaluates, learns, and takes action is breathtakingly swift.
Life is a solid little thriller that offers plenty of churning tension, enthralling human drama and decent actors obviously enjoying a film out of the box. Gyllenhaal, Reynolds and Ferguson meld into their respective roles with ease, while co-stars Sanada, Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya (as the Russian Commander on board) never feel out of place or “lesser” compared to the headliners. Espinosa directs with a sure hand and keen eye for dynamic, stark tension, and the film’s scintillating succinctness gives it an immediacy and frisson that maximises its effect. Grinding, gasping, hold-on-for-dear-life thrills don’t often come along with this quality, so when they do you need to grab them tight. Life is terrific.
© 2017, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.