Life: Film Review
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson,Hiroyuki Sanada
Director: Daniel Espinosa
David Bowie - or more precisely, one of his most famous musical questions -proves to be the inspiration for Daniel Espinosa's tautly schlocky horror-space flick, Life.
High above the Earth in the International Space Station, a motley crew of nations is assembled, waiting to take on board a soil sample from Mars for analysis to see if anything existed.
But when the sample they bring on board does yield some form of life, it soon turns deadly threatening to kill off the six crew on board... and the future of life on Earth.
The chamber piece Life may be a spiritual successor and very reminiscent of Ridley Scott's Alien and many a Doctor Who episode where something lurks amok a base, but Espinosa's horror-cum-sci-fi cliche piece is actually startlingly effective in its execution and intense in some of its scenes.
Granted, the space staff on board are briefly sketched at best; Reynolds reprises a bit of wise-cracking edge from Deadpool as the engineer of the piece, Ferguson's gruff starched commander is all about the protocols and firewalls than the fuzzies, and Hiroyuki Sanada's pilot is given a new-born baby on Earth to raise his emotional stakes.
Perhaps more interesting is Gyllenhaal's David Jordan, a medic who's been in space for 473 days and prefers the hum of the spaceship to the evils that men do on the ground. He's afforded the deepest degree of character as the film progresses, but it's slim pickings all around.
Which is potentially no bad thing for Life.
This is not a film that wants to philosophise or put a lot of scientific debate or discussion, it's more interested in firing abject terror thanks to an overly bombastic soundtrack and series of relatively taut set-pieces.
It helps the creature, named Calvin by a lucky kid that wins a competition on Earth, starts off like a gelatinous star-fish before evolving into some kind of floating turtle / snake hybrid and is a fairly innocuous but fatal critter - it's not destined for horror infamy like the Xenopmorph, but it works its terror well as the film continues.
The dialogue in part is cliche as well - from lines like "I've got a good feeling about this" to "There's zero precedence for this!" that are ripped straight of Horror Movie Writing 101 to a meta reference to Re-Animator, this is a film that proudly and honestly wears its influences on its sleeve.
As the escalating schlock of the situation sets in and the horror movie trappings emerge with relative aplomb, Espinosa keeps the film rattling along at quite a pace and never really stops to let it breathe. The result is relatively tremendous, a terror-filled ride that's worth taking in the fashion in which it was intended.
From its opening shot of a blip hurtling across the stars to its shots high above the Earth and within the Space Station, the look and feel of Life is second-to-none. With its tight frame shots of the crew within the ship and wide shots of life outside in the vastness of space, complete with an evocative orchestral score, Espinosa manages to convey a sense of the infinite with the intimate in this claustrophobic thriller.
And there's a certain beauty in one of the crew being killed, hauled into a Messianic pose with blood globules floating in the zero gravity room around them - this is a film that gets the look and feel right, even if it does feel like something we've witnessed before.
While the end feels unnecessarily OTT with a Eureka moment coming a little too conveniently into proceedings, Espinosa and the cast are fully committed to the meshing of the horror and space genres here.
Make no mistake, Life is unashamedly a derivative but suspenseful schlockbuster that embraces its conventions with gusto. It's actually also a tremendously slick and diverting popcorn ride too, despite its lack of more rounded human edges that kept the likes of Gravity and Alien afloat in the cold dark reaches of space.