Life FILM REVIEW
Release: OUT NOW!
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hiroyuki Sonoda, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya
The Pilgrim 7 Mars mission is in trouble. With an historic cargo – a sample – on board, it’s been damaged and is spinning out of control. The International Space Station crew has trained for months to retrieve it with Doctor Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) prepped to research the sample and CDC containment specialist Doctor Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) responsible for building the staged firewalls designed to keep it contained.
All of which means nothing if they lose the sample.
Only a last-minute save by engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds)captures it. Once secured, the crew start to study the samples aboard, with Hugh Derry the truth…
There’s life on Mars.
And the single cell they have aboard can be revived.
The world celebrates and the crew get to work. But tensions rise on the station as the alien, named Calvin, grows. Then, the unthinkable happens and suddenly the ISS is a battleground between humanity and our next door neighbours…
So yes this is basically Alien. But before you roll your eyes, consider this. Life is written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the writers of Deadpool. It stars Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal and Hiroyuki Sonada. It’s directed by Daniel Espinosa whose previous work includes the excellent Safe House. This is a movie with a fantastic pedigree and it’s all up on screen.
In other words – yes, this is a distinctly cookie-cutter monster movie in places. But the cookies are DELICIOUS.
Not to mention really smartly put together. The usual problem with this sort of movie is the fact people have to act against their best interests for things to happen. The original Alien neatly gets around that with Ash’s deceit and Weyland Yutani’s secondary agenda. The theatrical cut of Prometheus staggeringly fails to get around that by having a scientist prod a toothed snake to see if it wants to be friends.
Life gets around that, and every problem it has, with human nature.
Calvin, named by an Earth High School, is a rock thrown into the pool of the human psyche. He’s unprecedented, unknown and he rattles everyone on the station. Hugh is fascinated with what he admits will be his life’s work, Rory distrusts it and Miranda and mission commander Katerina Golovkina (a good but under-used Olga Dihovicnaya) are desperate to keep it contained. No one is comfortable with Calvin aboard and the mistake that leads to him breaking out, and the first death, is born not in stupidity but in simple lack of knowledge, human nature and bad luck. These people do very nearly everything right. They die anyway.
The tension, as a result, is sky high from the get go. The first confrontation with Calvin in the lab is especially great, as is a supremely tense sequence involving Chief Medical Officer Doctor David Jordan (an understated Gyllenhaal) frantically suiting up while Captain Golovkina slowly drowns in her suit outside. This is inventive, claustrophobic science fiction horror that uses everything in its fantastically realised set as a weapon or a barrier.
Every moment here feels earned, no one feels stupid and everyone feels like a well-rounded character especially Bakare’s conflicted and compassionate Hugh. Which, given how minimalistic some of these characters are, is a pleasant surprise. Both Dihovichnaya and Sonada are chronically under used but both are given a pair of strong Scene. Reynolds is Reynolds, stupidly charming, very funny but with a fundamental decent streak that Deadpool is missing. There’s a sense of him trying on a more serious role for size for the first time in a couple of years and he clearly likes it. We’d be interested to see if he goes back to the rumoured Safe House sequel in between Deadpool sequels as a result.
The real stars here, though, are Ferguson and Gyllenhaal. Ferguson has a precise, almost severe screen presence that’s perfectly suited to roles like this. Like Reynolds’ wise cracking engineer it would have been so easy to make her an antagonistic figure. Instead she’s as respected as the rest of the crew, if not more so. Likewise, it would have been easy to make Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan a tortured, quiet man in a very loud way. Instead, the PTSD sufferer is a quiet, reticent presence in the movie that echoes Gyllenhaal’s career-defining Donnie Darko in how dialled-back he is.
This is a good cast, in a movie that looks great and has some brilliantly well thought out scares. There’s a wonderfully tense sequence that is nothing more than Sonoda flipping switches for example. An earlier sequence involving Rory and an incinerator is a highlight too as is the moment help arrives from Earth. But, and this is especially amazing given the genre, the ending is what will stay with you. Life not only manages to dodge the movie-killing “…or IS it?!” ending that destroys so many horror movies on the home stretch but manages to make a clearly CGI monster immensely threatening.
Calvin moves from a starfish to a horrifying four-foot wide winged creature that looks like the offspring of a mollusc and a mummified dog skeleton. He has personality and menace and is, as near as we can tell, never once a physical effect. The ending sequences, where he and the characters are in close proximity are skin crawlingly intense as a result. It’s an amazing achievement and marks out just how successful this film is with very familiar ingredients.
Life is a resolutely smart, well-acted and expertly assembled monster movie. It throws a couple of new wrinkles in the mix, makes each work and finishes as one of this year’s first pleasant cinematic surprises. Very little will surprise (although perhaps more than you think…) but you won’t fail to have a good time.
Review by Alasdair Stuart
- Life Trailer – New SF Thriller Film From The Writers Of Deadpool