Film fails to breathe new “Life” into genre
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When the crew aboard the ISS (International Space Station) retrieves a pod returning with samples from Mars, they are thrilled to discover that the samples contain evidence of life beyond Earth.
Little do they know, some things are better left undiscovered. Now, in a fight for survival, the crew must outsmart the rapidly growing and adapting alien life form before it kills them all or escapes to the Earth below.
As far as premise goes, “Life” brings nothing new to the table. Since Ridley Scott’s “Alien” kicked off the space horror genre in the late ’70s, countless movies have followed that involve a hostile alien on a stranded space station, hunting down the doomed crew members one by one. But still, director Daniel Espinosa manages to breathe enough “life” into his movie to keep it entertaining.
The one thing that sticks out the most is the constant zero-gravity effect throughout the movie. Whether the characters are working at a computer terminal or gazing out a window at the wide expanse of space, there is constantly minor movement, either from the actors themselves or from the objects floating about them.
This subtle movement ultimately succeeds in giving the visual reminder that the characters are in space. In addition, this weightlessness effect becomes particularly effective when the alien begins its attack, and the blood starts to fly (or float, rather) around the scene, adding to the inherent horror of the scene.
As stated before, “Life” follows the same story beats as any other “trapped-in-space” horror film. Its plot points tread familiar ground, yet the whole film still manages to be an engaging monster flick.
The first act starts solidly enough and sets things quickly into motion, with the alien (affectionately named “Calvin,” after an elementary school wins a contest) proving its formidable capabilities.
The middle of the movie hits sort of a rut, however, as the action lulls and things slow to a halt. It is only at the second half of “Life” where the film kicks off at a welcome, yet muddled, jolt. The ending is a surprise, but in a most satisfying way.
Calvin, while being plenty creepy and dangerously unique in its own right, doesn’t leave as much of an impression as the monsters of past sci-fi horror films, though.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson lead the cast as Dr. David Jordan, Pilot Rory Adams and Dr. Miranda North, respectively. The rest of the team includes Hiroyuki Sanada as Engineer Sho Murakami, Ariyon Bakare as Dr. Hugh Derry, and Olga Dihovichnaya as Commander Katerina Golovkina.
All of these actors and actresses put forth commendable performances, despite the one-note qualities of their characters. The ones with the most depth are Gyllenhaal and Bakare, whose motivations for being in space are explored in some truly tender moments. It is with these two towards which the audience feels the most sympathy, as they all face down the threat of Calvin.
If you are a fan of sci-fi horror, and have already seen the classics like “Alien” or “Predator,” go ahead and give “Life” a try. It’s recognizable plot beats are bound to still be a thrilling ride despite the blockbusters that have come before it.
If you have yet to see “Alien” or “Predator,” I’d recommend checking those pioneers of trapped-in-space horror films first, before seeing “Life.”
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
+ Classic space horror plot formula makes for familiar, yet enjoyable flick
+ Excellent performances despite one-note characters
– Plot starts off great, slows a bit, then jolts off to a satisfying third act