Director: Daniel Espinosa Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Olga Dihovichnaya, & Ariyon Bakare Synopsis: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth (Source: IMDb). Rating: R
In space, nobody can hear you yawn. In the theater, however, everyone can and during my particular screening, there was plenty of it. To be fair, it was late at night and we were all comfortably reclined in premium leather Lazy Boys. Still, with as creative a spin on the genre as the film presents and the amount of talent involved, it should have been much easier to stay awake for Life.
You can tell Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) and writing duo Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese (Zombieland, Deadpool) had high aspirations for their sci-fi horror flick, going so far to as emulate Ridley Scott’s Alien to the point of tedium. And though Scott is still exploring the origins of the xenomorph with his ongoing anthology, Life offers a much simpler and more relevant revelation.
Instead of hatching from gooey eggs on some distant moon a hundred years from now, their monster (later dubbed Calvin by Earthly school children) is unearthed from a Martian core sample by present-day astronauts living aboard the International Space Station (or ISS). And instead of an intricately inspired extraterrestrial (thank you, H.R. Giger), Calvin is more of a microbial jelly. On paper this somewhat more grounded explanation sounds scarier. On screen, however, narrative tension becomes the first victim.
As probable as everything up to this point sounds, Calvin is rather improbable. Shortly after breaking free from its enclosure, it becomes apparent that this squid-thing is nearly indestructible. Despite their best efforts, our crew never stands a chance. Calvin is always the smartest, strongest, most observant thing in the room.
Of course it doesn’t help that our scientists keep making bad decisions. Because of these things, Life never lives up to its promised cat and mouse premise. Instead, it’s a game of waiting to see who’s gonna bite it (rather, get bit) next. And it’s a game that, despite the familiarity of such films, could have been much more fun to play had the characters been a bit more fleshed out. You can almost tell who’s getting offed next based on who has the least amount of backstory.
However, the most frustrating things about Life is its persistent hand-holding. It overcompensates for its narrative shortcomings with an overly dramatic, in-your-face score designed to not let you forget how you’re supposed to be feeling at any given moment and expulsions of blatant exposition (at one point one character says “Calvin’s in the air vents!” when we just saw Calvin go into the air vents) in case you dozed off.
Life‘s not all bad, though. For instance, Espinosa does a nice job with the environment. I never doubted for a second that the crew was floating about in space aboard the International Space Station. Of course, some of that credit goes to the stunning work from the visual effects team. And though the characters themselves don’t have a whole lot going on, the performances help make them just tolerable enough to the point where I cared to stick around through the ending. That’s gotta mean something, right?
Life lands in theaters Friday, March 24th.
Have you seen Life? What did you think? Was it a total Alien ripoff or did you find something about it to cling to? Let us know in the comments section!