Film Review – Life
In director Daniel Espinosa’s latest movie Life, a crew of astronauts aboard the International Space Station must struggle to save their own against an invader from Mars. The scenario is by no means unique, new, or something you haven’t otherwise already seen, unless you don’t like to really watch stuff. Opening with a several-minute spanning continuous shot that shows us a lot of inconsequential stuff, including things that float in zero-gravity and people moving around a space station. The reason here is the interception of a probe coming from Mars that contains soil samples that harbor what may be a single-celled organism.
As can probably be guessed, the organism turns out to be more complex than single-celled and quickly becomes a problem for the crew. Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is in charge of the direct contact research inside the boxed lab, onboard the space station, and takes an immediate liking to the organism, which children back on Earth affectionately named Calvin. Derry’s work apparently includes touching, poking, and playing with Calvin, which seems cute until Calvin decides it’s done being cute and wants out of its box.
The movie spins an overly ridiculous scenario out of this that ends with some rather nihilistic, sustained violence that the camera decides to linger on, like an object just floating in zero-g. It’s the kind of scene and moment that lets you know you’re closer to the murky depths of Alien knock-offs like Leviathan and Deep Star Six than you are Alien. And while two of those movies actually take place underwater, the scenarios and plot contrivances are no different than any alien terror setup.
There is enjoyment to be found here among the confines of familiar space as we watch crew members get knocked off one by one as they attempt to thwart and ultimately destroy Calvin as it grows and becomes a Cthulhuesque jellyfish, complete with a face and penchant for blood. The enjoyment though mostly derives from an unintended consequence of taking oneself too seriously while retreading familiar territory and constructing suspenseless moments out of all-too-familiar tropes.
If the scientists in Prometheus were seemingly dumb than the scientists here are outright imbeciles. Characters constantly make decisions that come off laughable, begging the question how they got here in the first place, which would probably have saved everyone, the audience and all of Earth included. Ryan Reynolds is here as crew member Rory Adams, but like any Ryan Reynolds role is really just Reynolds riffing off everyone around him, unsure if he’s in a comedy or the cameras aren’t rolling.
The misanthropic doctor David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) has spent over four hundred consecutive days in space and has no intention of going back down if he can help it. Security for this operation is run by Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) who keeps talking about firewalls put in place for Earth’s safety. Unfortunately firewalls seem to be inconsequential to Calvin, who grows bigger and more tentaclely inclined with each kill.
With slick long takes, few cuts and a beautifully well-constructed set design, it visual appears that Espinosa isn’t quite sure himself what kind of film they’re making. It cumulatively comes to an expensive B-movie experience that lacks the technical and practical prowess of a James Cameron movie but aims for similar character ambitions of emotional connectivity, only to come up short with another unintentionally funny moment.
Gyllenhaal plays his role subdued and underscored compared to his manic and overly expressive performances, but comes off like he’s gunning for 2001: A Space Odyssey instead of Event Horizon. Ferguson is just doing the best she can surrounded with all of this and actually acts the most natural and in-place of everyone. And also, someone needs to discuss with Hiroyuki Sanada that he has no business going into space and any further attempts to do so would only result in the certain deaths of anyone who accompanies him.
Depending on the experience you go in looking for, you’ll either enjoy this on a level most likely not implied by Espinosa and company or walk out shaking your head.