According to Wikipedia, this is the 8th film with the title Life. So, no points for originality on the naming front. Neither is this Life any more original in terms of plot or visual design, but despite engendering a feeling of deja vu, this is a slickly made space thriller with plenty of suspenseful moments.
The plot reads like a remake of Alien. A manned space station receives soil samples from a recently returned probe from Mars. In the sample they discover an alien life form. It’s a mere cell, but once incubated on the ship it begins to grow exponentially – developing into a membrane-like blob, to a cute, little jellyfish critter, and then something resembling an octopus (as is the current trend with alien life forms, a la Arrival and Prometheus).
Named Calvin by the media during its cutesy stage, the alien soon becomes much more of a physical threat. Quick as lightening and sporting some sharp appendages, Calvin starts picking off the crew one by one. And what an attractive bunch of astronauts they are too, before they meet their respective grisly ends.
Given Life is written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the scribes of Deadpool and Zombieland and their upcoming sequels, one could be forgiven for expecting a healthy dose of humour, but this is pretty much a flat out thriller for its entire running time. As such, it’s pretty lean and sticks to the genre basics. Swedish director Daniel Espinosa has a long background in action films, from his local hit Easy Money to his Hollywood debut Safe House. He keeps the pace brisk and the tension at a high pitch.
Visually there’s nothing about Calvin that really sets him apart from any number of aliens we’ve seen before, but he does have an unnerving knack of zipping around at a great clip and admirable survival skills.
His potential victims don’t get much of a chance to register as fully fleshed characters. Ryan Reynolds plays on the recognition factor of his smart alec schtick. While he’s the renegade of the bunch, it’s pretty alarming that almost every crew member breaches major protocol at one time or another. It’s not hard to dazzle me with science, so I can’t speak for any implausible technical clangers, but given how quarantine protocol is the one thing constantly being drummed into us and the crew, it seems a bit dim that no one carries out these basic rules.
Jake Gyllenhaal is also cast to type, coming across as the decent, dependable joe who can be trusted in a crisis. Elsewhere, it’s the kind of multicultural ensemble you’d expect from a big studio action film.
Rebecca Ferguson has the meatiest role, although that’s not saying much. As the ship’s captain, she bears the burden of responsibility most, not that she gets any big moments to speak of. This isn’t a film that you see for its performances. Indeed, the actors are often restricted by their bulky space suits and especially their helmets.
Life doesn’t set out to break the mould of sci-fi thrillers, it’s just a well made, efficiently suspenseful genre flick.
It’s a sweet ride, but not one for the ages.
Life is currently in general release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee