Review: Life

Life (2017) | Directed by Daniel Espinosa | Sci-fi/Thriller | Rated R | With Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds | Skydance Media | Box Office: $51 Million | IMDb rating: 7.0/10

It is hard not to compare space horror features to the high bar set by Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic Alien. This year’s Life can’t escape the talk either, and the crowd has gone so far as to dub it an Alien rip-off. This phrase does hold some truth, as the movie’s premise is almost entirely cribbed from Alien. Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44), it follows a group of astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) where they successfully retrieve a satellite containing Martian soil samples and find a perfectly preserved single-celled organism, proof of life on Mars. At first, it is so cute and unthreatening that it’s given a name: “Calvin”. But as is the case in almost every film in this genre, someone makes a foolish mistake out of curiosity (or stupidity), and Calvin soon gets out of control, proceeding to kill the crew members one by one in increasingly grotesque fashions.

Although Life borrows many of its plot elements from Alien, it does try to make up for its lack of originality in other areas. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey helps the film make a dignified entrance into the sci-fi world with a stunning single-shot opening sequence in zero-gravity, almost on par with that of Gravity (2013), establishing the feeling of isolation and disorientation in space with bleak colors and dizzying camerawork, which heighten the film’s suspense. As Calvin becomes more and more threatening, the audience comes to understand what “in space, no one can hear you scream” really means.

Calvin is designed beautifully and more realistically than the xenomorph in Alien. Audiences get to witness its transformation from a glutinous blob to a malicious monster with every stage intricately detailed. One noticeable difference between Calvin and its Alien counterpart is how Calvin does not kill blindly, instead prioritizing its own survival. Both Calvin and the crew are merely trying to survive, hence the movie’s title. Calvin’s survivalist nature and resemblance to an earthly creature make the film more realistic than standard space horror.

In contrast to the film’s extraterrestrial antagonist, vitality is something that the film’s human characters sorely lack. The six astronauts aboard the station wear a rather serious face, barring Ryan Reynolds’ character, an engineer named Rory Adams who basically has Deadpool’s sense of humor with the obscenity  toned way down. Despite a lack of screen time for his character to fully register in viewers’ minds, Reynolds gives a respectable performance in his tried-and-true formula for a witty, cheerful persona. Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson do their best to portray their respective characters, medical doctor David Jordan and mission commander Miranda North. However, without dynamic dialogues or interesting backstories, they fail to leave a lasting impression. As a result, the film feels messy and unrelatable at times. Ironically, this lack of characterization lends an extra layer of unpredictability and tension to the film. The audience is left without knowing who the film’s leads are and will never be certain who makes it to the end.

Although Life lacks the originality to stand as a memorable addition to the sci-fi horror sub-genre, it makes for passable entertainment that will satiate viewers looking for a handful of genuinely terrifying moments and visually stunning scenes in space.