March 23, 2017.
Why was this movie made? There is no need for it. We already have Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror, (which is pretty much Life but set in future) and also his upcoming Alien: Covenant project which looks a lot more visceral and spectacular than this film. Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds are big name stars, and I’m not quite sure why they signed on to star in this isolation sci-fi movie. I would assume a large sum of money was involved. There’s really no reason for this movie to exist other than to please fans of the first Alien film and fans of the claustrophobic sci-fi genre, but nevertheless, Life manages to be an entertaining, tension-filled movie even though it does nothing to elevate the genre.
Life is directed by Daniel Espinosa and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds as a team of astronauts aboard the International Space Station who happen to have discovered life outside of Earth. I wasn’t too excited for this one to come out. The trailers didn’t really do it for me, and outside of Gyllenhaal and Reynolds the cast didn’t excite me that much. The only thing that was gripping, to me, was the line from the trailer that said something along the lines of that an encounter with extraterrestrial beings will be seen as a natural occurrence in human history, and not as an impossible discovery. I really like this idea, it’s a pretty outside-the-box concept and one that I was hoping would anchor Life as an intellectual, thought-provoking sci-fi film. This was not to be found. It’s nowhere near as smart as it wants to be, but like the International Space Station orbiting earth, if you look at the whole surface area of Life you get a predictable space film with bad pacing, but still manages to retain its tension and entertainment value.
The first 20 minutes was pretty boring. There is not much character development going on, and the little that is there is either to predictably manipulate the viewer or development for the sake of plot. We have little title cards to guide us on how long these astronauts have been in space, but the jumps come out of nowhere and really ruin the pacing. I don’t spoil any significant details about any movies in my reviews, but I find it safe to say the ending was incredibly predictable. I saw it coming a mile away. The cinematography is decent for a space station film like this, and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (The Avengers, Nocturnal Animals) pulls inspiration from other space movies like the anti-gravity tracking shots from Gravity, or framing our characters frightened faces with a slow push-in like Alien does. This leads to another big problem I have with Life. It doesn’t feel like its own entity. It feels like a select number of sci-fi suspense films were just blended together and thrown out. It adds very little to the genre in terms of scope or narrative flow, and it feels more like an Alien rip-off set in modern times than it does anything else.
I must say, Life may be a dumb throwaway sci-fi horror, but it does its job in the entertainment aspect. I wouldn’t say I was on the edge-of-my-seat the entire film, but my pulse started to pound in certain scenes. The design for the alien itself is pretty interesting. It reminded me of a hybrid between a Venus flytrap and those winged monsters from Godzilla. It was pretty scary. The relationships between the astronauts was probably the most interesting human dynamic in the film, and watching them trying to miserably kill this alien together was interesting. The whole cast is pretty great, with Reynolds bringing his Deadpool-esque charm to every single line, and Gyllenhall yelling at everybody for not letting him do what he wants. Ferguson plays the same role she plays in every film, and she was fine, but it was Ariyon Bakare’s character who I was most interested in. He’s the chief scientist whose job is to analyze the alien and figure out the important questions like: where its species come from, how they went basically extinct, and what their role in the universe. There are seeds planted of a parent bond between Bakare and the alien, which could have been a really cool concept/sub-plot, but it was never really explored. I didn’t find any uncovered messages or deeper meaning in the film, but if you look at it from the surface you get a well-crafted, suspenseful sci-fi thriller with solid performances.
Life was pretty much the movie I expected it to be. A tension-filled, claustrophobic thriller. It’s nothing more than that. It doesn’t elevate the sci-fi genre like Alien and Blade Runner did. It doesn’t push the boundaries for CGI like Gravity did, and it doesn’t push the the sci-fi narrative structure that Interstellar did. A predictable story, fine performances, and tension loaded scenes is what really inhabits Life. Overall, Life was an entertaining yet safe sci-fi horror that should merely be seen as a footnote in the genre.