Life falls smack into the sci-fi alien genre of movies, so it is my prediction that every single review of it will somehow lead to comparisons in particular with Ridley Scott’s Alien — especially since that sci-fi classic owns this piece of the cinematic pie with numerous sequels and yet another (Alien: Covenant) coming from the man himself in May. And with the more cerebral Arrival having just tackled the alien-vs.-humans theme all the way to a Best Picture Oscar nomination, it would seem Sony’s Life might have its work cut out for it in this field. And indeed it does.
But Life succeeds nicely on its own terms, thank you very much. Just as other genres have produced endless variations on the theme and not suffered because of it (Westerns, anyone?), neither should this intriguing film from director Daniel Espinosa and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.
As I say in my video review above, Life takes the idea of an alien life form threatening the lives of a space ship crew, but with bone-chilling claustrophobic precision manages to not only be nifty entertainment for fans of this genre but also says something pertinent about the ability of humans to meddle in areas they are better off not touching. Although its plot might very well seem the stuff of science fiction, it is totally conceivable that, as we continue to make advancements in technology and screw around with Mother Nature, we could find ourselves setting off an irreversible catastrophe of our own creation.
Life presents, in its own way, the recipe for doing just that. The story revolves around a group of scientists aboard the International Space Station who are determined to prove there is life on Mars. When they discover something that does, under further microscopic inspection, confirm this theory, the trouble begins. Taking an ameoba-like organism they find a living cell and continue to prod it to life — big mistake. Ever heard the phrase “curiosity killed the cat”? In this case, the quest to find life on another planet could mean big trouble for Earth if it gets out of hand, which it does literally.
Slowly this alien life form, which the crew — in a bid to humanize something they should not — nicknames Calvin, begins to claim its victims in ever-increasing gross ways (although it does seem especially fond of oral methods) as its own size and power increases — kind of like a baby Blob let loose from its cradle. It seems this is a lifeforce who becomes all muscle, all eyes, all evil and I confess I had a great time watching it evolve throughout the 103-minute running time of the film. No, it is not at all surprising that this Mars resident will attempt to devour this adventurous crew of six humans, but the filmmakers let it do it in a closed-door narrow environment that keeps us on edge throughout.
The human actors have a hard time competing with the star special effect here but do what is expected of them. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Daniel Jordan, a guy who has spent well over a year already on this ISS when he is joined by the newbies who are more anxious to prove their theories. Chief among them is microbiologist Miranda North (played earnestly by Rebecca Ferguson) who views this mission impossible with a bit of caution and is conscious of creating firewalls between the crew and any suspicious discovery they bring on board. Ryan Reynolds is the mission specialist Rory Adams and, without giving anything away, his facial expressions during a brief encounter with Calvin are Oscar worthy.
The same could be said of Ariyon Bakare, who plays Hugh Derry, the British scientist given the unenviable task of determining just what this new lifeforce from Mars really could be. Due to his own physical impairment (he lost both legs when he was 10), you believe his motivations due to the hope he has that this discovery could benefit mankind. Uh, that would be a no. The crew is rounded out by Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada as the flight engineer, and Russian Olga Dihovichnaya as cosmonaut Ekaterina Golovkina. All of them have their moments, and star billing might be a red herring in this case. Just sayin’.
This is treated as very serious business throughout and there is little comic relief — surprising considering writers Reese and Wernick were responsible for Zombieland and Deadpool, and are here reteaming with the latter’s star Reynolds. Espinosa (Safe House) directs with the skill of a surgeon, and is aided mightily by Seamus McGarvey’s sensational cinematography, and Nigel Phelps’ cool production design. Kudos to all. In addition to giving food for its alien star, Life also gives food for thought for its human audience all the way up to a very memorable ending. Beware.
Producers are David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn. Sony, using its Columbia Pictures entity, releases the Skydance production Friday.
Do you plan to see Life? Let us know what you think.