Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya
Runtime: 1 hr 44 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Disturbing Scenes and Coarse Language)
Released By: Sony Pictures Releasing International
Official Website: http://www.lifemovie.com
Opening Day: 23 March 2017
Synopsis: Life is a terrifying sci-fi thriller about a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station whose mission of discovery turns to one of primal fear when they find a rapidly evolving life form that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
A plethora of movies revolving around doomed space travel, such as Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and many others, invariably share at least some, if not all, of these themes: dwindling resources for survival, sacrifice of the self for the greater good, the shining through of the human spirit in the face of astronomical adversity. This movie rehashes most of these space sci-fi tropes and here’s the verdict: it still manages to deliver a good time.
You’d think that with a title like Life, the movie would be more, well, life-affirming – at least of the human variety. In this flick, however, it is alien-kind that impresses more with its tenacity to survive against all odds. Not unlike a formidable cockroach that simply won’t die despite your best efforts at swatting it – only that the extra-terrestrial varmint featured here resembles more the mutated love child of a squid and a Venus flytrap.
Swedish director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) kicks off the action on an International Space Station carrying a multinational crew of six, who are tasked with examining some research substrates and samples that have been retrieved from Mars. Jake Gyllenhaal plays David, medical officer who holds the dubious record of being the longest space-based member on board. His teammates include Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), who hails from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is a stickler for enforcing protocols and firewalls. Then there is Roy (Ryan Reynolds), the dashing and instantly likeable engineer, whose wisecracking persona here recalls Reynolds’ own titular superhero character in Deadpool (surely no coincidence that the writers behind Life, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, were also responsible for the latter film’s script.)
To round off the rest of the ensemble team, there’s also Japanese spacecraft pilot, Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada), British scientist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) and Russian commander Katerina (Olga Dihovichnaya). In the spacecraft’s lab, Hugh isolates a single-cell organism from the samples and provides just enough environmental stimuli to awaken the dormant creature (christened Calvin). All hell breaks loose as it evolves and grows rapidly, breaches containment and turns into a rabid killing machine in the process. Calvin needs air, food and water just like us, and this becomes key to the astronauts’ strategy of alternately baiting and cutting off its supplies in a claustrophobic cat-and-mouse game of survival.
Comparisons of Life with Ridley Scott’s Alien will no doubt come fast and furious, given the similar setups of both films – how a bunch of people in a spacecraft are saddled with the chore of fending off an intelligent, treacherous critter on board. And then there are the parallels with Gravity, both in terms of visual flair and in that they both involve sending one person hurtling back home through Earth’s punishing atmosphere at the expense of another disappearing into the infinities of space.
Certainly, inventiveness isn’t the strongest suit of the film here. There are also a number of tired devices thrown in to accentuate the longing for earthly warmth, such as Sho’s yearning to be reunited with his new-born daughter as well as the tender readings of a classic children’s book. But these feel underdeveloped and never quite achieve the feels they attempt to evoke. Additionally, beyond the professional level at which the crew members work together, their relationships with each other lack personal depth. Gyllenhaal’s character in particular spends a lot of time brooding when he’s not in the thick of action; based on what we know of the actor’s abilities, he seems to be let down here in terms of opportunities to display more range. But then again, maybe none of this is what the movie needs anyway.
Lifeis remorseless in the way it soldiers on, choosing to beef up the tried-and-tested material with stylish panache and solid scares, even if there is little that feels truly original. It’s actually more reminiscent of a horror-slasher flick under the guise of a sci-fi setting. The horror part as we squirm while Calvin mangles body parts, enters orifices and devours people from inside out; the slasher bit as we watch Calvin efficiently kill its victims one by one like a relentless murderer with a hitlist. The CGI special effects, while not ground-breaking, occasionally has an aesthetic that still manages to impress – globules of blood suspend wondrously in zero-gravity like a beautiful nightmare after the alien has done its latest crew member in.
Within the confines of its predictable storyline, the movie also attempts to keep things fresh by sneaking in a few subtle surprises. For one, and thankfully, the crew isn’t quite bumped off in the sequence you’d expect (least popular to most bankable actor), although you can normally smell in advance when things are about to go horribly wrong for a certain crew member. After building up to a frenzied climax, the movie also ends with a twist of sorts, which we shall not spoil for you here, but suffice to say, the feel-good factor isn’t what Life is gunning for.
This film is a damning statement on the potential for magnificently dire consequences when humans play God and temper with life – even if the source of life isn’t from the world we’re used to. For all its flaws though, Life does what it has to and delivers enough punch where needed to remind us that sometimes, that’s all we need for a nail-bitingly good time in the theatres.
(A horror flick with a sci-fi setting, Life lacks originality but still is a lot of solid B-grade fun, with its dependable special effects and gruesome scares)
Review by Tan Yong Chia Gabriel