Review - 'Life'
When I first saw the trailers for Life I was shocked by how much of the plot was being given away and by how derivative to Alien it seemed to be. Now, after seeing the film, I can confirm that they did give too much away in the trailer and that it is very derivative of Alien, yet I can surprisingly say that I was still very much entertained by this film.
Life follows six crew members on an international space station who are attempting to intercept a probe that has taken samples on Mars. They hope that the probe is the key to finding new life. After succeeding in securing the probe, they find that there are in fact live organisms in the sample that they took. When they provide oxygen to the organism it begins to grow rapidly and lash out violently. The growing creature manages to escape and is out for blood.
Daniel Espinosa's Life is a thrilling film featuring a unique-looking alien/creature and some very well thought-out ways of disposing of helpless crew-members, but has no idea about how to make you feel for said crew-members. While Life consistently had me on the edge of my seat, I never really cared about whether or not any of the characters lived or died. While I'm not complaining about the film's surprisingly short run-time (hour-and-forty-three minutes), I do think it could have used a bit more time to flesh out these characters. Also not working in the film's favor is Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays the lead and also happens to be the most uninspired and bland character, and this is coming from one of Gyllenhaal's biggest fans.
The rest of the cast, while still not having much to do, at least have differing personalities and are somewhat interesting here and there. The big "winner" is Ariyon Bakare, who plays a British biologist. He's the first one to come directly into contact with this alien organism and his character's enthusiasm and intrigue for the subject is palpable. Rebecca Ferguson is pretty good with what little she's given, and even though I wasn't really clear about her character's motivations, she had a believable conviction. Ryan Reynolds sort of just plays Ryan Reynolds, which is actually fine because otherwise this film would be completely devoid of any moments of levity. Hiroyuki Sanada and Olga Dihovichnaya round out the rest of the crew, and they're alright as well, but barely make a meaningful impression at all.
What Life lacks in character development, it more than makes up for in tension, thrills and flat-out brutal kills that rival some of the greatest. There were at least a couple of times in this film where where a character would meet their fate and I cocked my head and thought: "Huh, I don't think I've seen that before...COOL!".
It must be said that If you're squeamish about violence, Life isn't for you. This movie is definitely a hard-R when it comes to its depictions of violence. If you're a gore-hound, though, this is right down your alley. I honestly think Daniel Espinosa is one of the first directors to think to use the lack of gravity in conjunction with spurts of blood in a cool and almost artsy way, and I totally appreciated that touch. It also helps that the creature the effects department has cooked up actually looks cool and scary and moves and acts like something that actually seems alien.
Life is also pretty great to look at. The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is spot-on and captures the claustrophobic nature of the space-craft very well.The effects-work is also very good, it was rare that I ever noticed obvious CG and while I always prefer practical effects with my creatures, this one is very well-conceived and judging by how it looks and moves, probably impossible to be created by practical means. I also really enjoyed the concussive score by Jon Ekstrand that accentuates the horrors taking place.
Despite its proclivities towards poor characterizations. Life does just enough to justify itself against other sci-fi-horror films by providing audiences with visceral and violent thrills and a pretty cool new alien to geek out about. If you like your sci-fi-horror light on character development but high on thrills and creature-violence, you'll like what Daniel Espinosa has to offer with Life.