If you want a movie which does exactly what it says on the tin, Life ticks that box right from the get go. Daniel Espinosa is one of the most workmanlike directors in Hollywood these days and his take on what about a dozen science-fiction horror pictures have done since Alien is about as formulaic as you may expect from him, but that’s not entirely a criticism. Of course it’s not fit to lick the boots of Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 film (which it so desperately wants to be) but anyone who likes the combination of aliens, space and a fair bit of blood and gore will find themselves satiated by what he serves up here. It’s one of those rare movies these days which isn’t low budget but equally isn’t festooned with cash, hoping clearly to ride the coat-tails of the two A-list stars attached. The box office to date doesn’t suggest that’s enough, mind.
The plot is fairly standard. Astronauts. Mars mission to collect samples as they try and determine whether life exists on the red planet. Spoiler: it does, and it ain’t pretty. Once they get the micro-organism back to their $200 billion space station, it doesn’t remain a micro-organism for very long. Ryan Reynolds slings out hip quotes and jokes that aren’t funny (reminding us of the days he was immensely annoying in lesser movies), Jake Gyllenhaal is the intense one who likes being in space, Hiroyuki Sanada the Japanese one because they need a Japanese actor for diversity and who else do you call? Rebecca Ferguson plays Noomi Rapace in Prometheus.
Ariyon Bakare is perhaps the most interesting of a bland bunch and features centrally in what is Life‘s standout sequence – a moment where the organism, named Calvin (you’ll see why), makes its deadly intentions known inside a bio-chamber; Espinosa executes that sequence, in tandem with Jon Ekstrand’s score (which is far better than its movie), with aplomb but he simply cannot match it as the film ticks off all of the (better) movies it’s pillaging from – Alien, Gravity, 2001, the list goes on. Calvin isn’t an intrusive CGI creation and he’s actually rather creepy in his pure, deadly otherworldliness, but he never reaches the primal terror of a xenomorph or face hugger. Life could have been a much more successful, interesting picture had it possibly tried to not straddle being cerebral and horrific, and go for broke on either.
As it stands, there’s nothing here for any cinema fan who wants something new, something the genre hasn’t given us before. Life moves well, doesn’t dwell too long in setting up disposable characters you’ll never care about, and some set pieces are well executed, plus there’s some nice cinematography in attempting to make the space station setting its own beast. The script, nonetheless, is often clunky, the characters are cardboard proxies with no distinguishing features, the impressive cast are enjoyable but get no real meat to chew on, and honestly you have seen almost every beat in Life done before if you know your sci-fi horror. Worth a watch? Sure. Worth making your life’s mission to see? Nah.
★ ★ ★
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