Director: David Espinosa
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya, Hiroyuki Sanada
Space exploration movies feel like they’re all the rage right now. Unfortunately, they can’t all be as great as 2013’s Gravity. With Passengers last year and now Life, I’m wondering if they’ve run their course for the time being or if we can’t figure out a new story to tell. Maybe the ambiguous one word titles have something to do with it. Life boasts a fun crew with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson leading the team on an international space station. They’re returning from a mission to Mars after collecting soil samples. Their small crew is also joined by Ryan Reynolds and three more astronauts and doctors who are making history for potentially finding life beyond Earth. After a few tests, they find that one of their samples is a living organism. Astronaut Hugh Derry (Bakare) is tasked with being the one in charge of the organism, which has been nicknamed “Calvin” by a young girl on Earth. Calvin starts to evolve into a bigger and smarter creature than they could have ever anticipated. Calvin gets to the point where it breaks out of its tank and slips its way into Hugh’s body. This alarming realization proves to the rest of the crew that no one will be safe on board if Calvin escapes. With their fuel draining and Calvin exponentially growing in size, time becomes scarce for the remaining members of the crew to risk their lives trying to destroy Calvin.
It’s very evident that director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) is inspired by Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey attempts some interesting camera shots by making it seem like the camera is floating in zero gravity like the actors. The technique is used early on and then sparingly afterwards, which is smart as it would get a bit dizzy if it’s a floating camera for 100 minutes. As we also saw with Passengers, you see the influences on screen, but there’s a lack of originality in the actual execution of the story and potential scares it’s going after. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have great writing credits to their name with Deadpool and Zombieland, which surprises me due to the basic nature of this film in comparison. I couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a smart space exploration movie or a scary alien horror movie. The script stays pretty contained with the action on the ship. They pay very little attention to any backstory to the characters or give them high enough stakes for what they may lose if they don’t make it out. We do find out that David Jordan (Gyllenhaal) has spent a record number of days in space and prefers the peaceful tranquility there versus on being on Earth. Hiroyuki Sanada’s Sho Kendo has to Skype the delivery of his new baby. That’s basically the exact of the lives these astronauts had pre-Mars. Maybe they brought up Rebecca Ferguson’s previous life and I just forgot by now.
The idea of an alien running around loose on a space station is not a very original concept making some of the twists a bit predictable. Reese and Wernick plays “gotcha” with their audience with the very ending, which in turn feels a bit cheap and lacking creativity. We’re also treated to some very melodramatic dialogue in these final moments as two characters accept the final consequences. I’ll be surprised if you don’t see it coming. Life belongs in that category of movies where you want to scream at the screen when the characters make stupid move over and over again even though they’re all supposedly smart astronauts and doctors. Maybe intelligence goes out the door when you’re under attack from an alien. Espinosa starts to pump up the horror aspects as Calvin starts to grow into a fully realized alien. He goes from a slippery little five-tentacle seaweed looking creature to a full size alien with snarling head and facial structure. The end results are not for those with a queasy stomach.
With the talents of Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds I would have expected something a little more thought-provoking. None of the actors are tasked with trying something new or going outside their comfort zones. I’ve long admired Gyllenhaal’s choice of projects with a full understanding of why he took on each project. I’m a bit flummoxed with this one unless he took the challenge in order play around in zero gravity and for the thrill of being in a scary space movie. Ryan Reynolds sticks to his usual cocky sidekick, comic relief type of character that we’ve come to expect from him.
On the plus side, Life is kept fairly short and to the point. It doesn’t drag on for too long. It’s another reminder not to mess with creatures from outer space as they are always smarter, scarier, and stronger than we are. Those looking for a no brainer space fright will probably sit back, shovel some popcorn in, and enjoy the destruction at hand after Calvin starts running amok. I went in hoping for an intelligent exploration of what may be out there, and that didn’t quite come across on screen.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Not a lot of fresh life in Life
RATING: 2 out of 5 TICKET STUBS