LIFE (USA/15A/103mins)
Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare.
THE PLOT: When the crew of the International Space Station discover potential life in samples that come back from Mars, they are understandably excited, and when the single cell organism – nicknamed Calvin by an elementary school back on Earth – begins to grow, so does the crew’s excitement. When Calvin begins to get aggressive however, the crew realise they have to stop the creature making its way to Earth, even at the cost of their own lives.
THE VERDICT: ‘Life’ sets out to be a standalone space horror thriller, but with obvious nods to ‘Alien’ and ‘Gravity’, the film ends up feeling like the love child of both, and not quite as good as either.The crew of the International Space Station is made up of Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada and Ariyon Bakare, a stellar cast that do well with what they are given. ‘Life’ is not a film about the characters aboard the space station – in fact, the more we learn about certain characters, the more we are sure they are not going to get out alive – but each of the cast get their moment, and they do well with the limited time they are given to develop their characters on screen. Gyllenhaal perhaps has the biggest opportunity of the entire cast, and milks it for everything that it is worth.
Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who previously collaborated on ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Zombieland’, ‘Life’ starts off as an atmospheric thriller, but the audience’s knowledge goes against their enjoyment of the film, as when Calvin begins to turn against the human life on the ISS, the audience already knows that things are going to go wrong. Add to this the feeling that ‘Life’ was heavily inspired by ‘Alien’, with a touch of ‘Gravity’, it is difficult to shake the feeling that we have seen all of this before, and we know where things are inevitably going to end up.
As director, Daniel Espinosa ramps up the unsettling and creepy feel of being alone in space right from the very beginning. There are times when Espinosa tries to show off his skill through long tracking shots, but these added to the zero gravity atmosphere of the ISS end up feeling dull and drawn out. The pacing of the film is strong enough, with the audience barely getting to chance to catch their breath between attacks from Calvin. That said, the familiar feeling of the film is hard to shake, even though many of the performances in the film are strong, and the twist at the end is easy to see coming from a mile away.
In all, ‘Life’ is a decent space thriller, but there is a familiar feel to the film that is hard to shake, as well as an inevitability that is obvious from the start and some very clunky foreshadowing. The performances in the film are fine, as is the pacing, but when it comes down to it, ‘Life’ is a film that we have seen before.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    After the muddled Russian affair that was Child 44, Swedish director Daniel Espinosa re-teams with Ryan Reynolds for Life. It’s a smart, action-packed sci-fi with echoes of Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing.

    A deep space probe from Mars returns to the International Space Station, with potential evidence of the much-sought-after life on Mars. Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) leads the international team of astronauts and scientists, which also consists of Rory (Reynolds), David (Jake Gyllenhaal), Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Hugh (Ariyon Bakare). In the contained, locked-down lab they discover a single-cell organism from Mars that has the ability to generate itself and grow new tentacles. They christen it ‘Calvin’ and playfully encourage its growth like a newborn child. However, this child doesn’t take too well to being prodded and pushed. So, it pushes back and attacks Hugh. It’s more sentient than at first appears, cleverly finding a way to injure Hugh and escape its box. It escapes into the space station, where the crew must find a way to either contain it… or kill it. But Calvin is evolving every hour, building up resistance to anything the crew fights it with. A fight for survival for both human and alien life forms develops, with the potential fate of humanity at stake…

    Life isn’t the most thrilling of titles, particularly as it’s been an oft-used title – even recently for a film about James Dean. However, the non-descript title is actually a disguise for a cracking space chiller which moves like a bullet and is tremendous fun, particularly for a fan of genre films like this one. Luke Davies’ well-written script obviously riffs on Alien, with an evolving, dangerous life form on the loose within a confined space. However, Davies is more interested in playing out the suspense rather than the gore (though, there’s a healthy dose of that too). Calvin develops a personality of its own, able to build up a resistance to fire and the vacuum of space. Blowing it out of the airlock won’t suffice in this film. To quote Ash, it becomes a perfect organism, outsmarting its human captors.

    Espinosa has a lot of fun here, playing around with audience expectations as to who will die early on. There are great set-pieces both inside and outside the International Space Station, cranking up the tension to include some unusual deaths – drowning in space, anyone? In time-honoured tradition, the characters start to dwindle as the creature grows bigger and stronger. Davies and Espinosa work hard to make each character memorable in their own way, when it would have been so easy to have basic cardboard characters to quickly knock down. As expected with a cast of this calibre, the performances are credible and grounded. The visual effects in the film look suitably expensive and impressive, so the joins in the film are never noticed. The evolution of Calvin is handled well, portraying an intelligent organism that simply wants to survive at whatever cost. The ending is superb too, pulling the rug for a jaw-drop moment that is uncharacteristic of a Hollywood film. Life is a thrilling sci-fi adventure that packs a punch and comes highly recommended. ****