DIR: Daniel Espinosa • WRI: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick • PRO: Bonnie Curtis, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Julie Lynn• DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Mary Jo Markey, Frances Parker • DES: Nigel Phelps • DES: Jurgen Doering • MUS: Jon Ekstrand • CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal; Ryan Reynolds; Rebecca Ferguson
After extra-terrestrial cells discovered in Martian soil rapidly evolve into a violent and intelligent creature, astronauts on board the ISS struggle to contain it.
The fact that Life will inevitably be compared to Alien is only exacerbated by the fact that not once is the creature described as such – instead dubbed with the crowd-sourced moniker Calvin in a grade-school competition that tragically missed the boat on Alien McAlienface.
This aim to reflect “real-life” might have been an effort to go high where Ridley Scott’s classic horror goes low, grounding high concept science fiction in the modern day rather than the grimy pulp future of interstellar travel. The comparisons are nonetheless inescapable, though not necessarily unfavourable. Life also takes its time, ratcheting up the tension for slowburn release as the crew’s initially benign forays into study of the life-form turn disastrous.
It’s a tension the film manages to maintain throughout, aided by fantastic creature design that manages to attach untold dread to the appearance of what is essentially a malevolent banana peel. Body horror abounds as one-by-one the crew succumbs in ever more grisly ways, their fumbling course corrections in the effort to contain the creature nudging them further into calamity.
Cast-wise, like most horror films what we’re presented with are less fully-rounded characters than cannon-fodder with just enough baggage attached for it to register when each meets their inevitable end. The more recognisable cast play to their strengths here, Gyllenhaal quiet and vaguely neurotic and Ryan Reynolds playing Ryan-Reynolds-in-space.
Ultimately the film’s main strength is in successfully straddling the line between fantasy and reality without tipping too far in either direction. The station feels lived-in, fragile – the inherent vulnerability of life on-board as much a feature of the horror as the monster. Where Alien very quickly establishes itself as a classic monster movie, Life instead strives to keep the narrative grounded – or as grounded as any film featuring a sentient tea-towel as an antagonist can feel.
Though borrowing heavily from better films that went before, Life is nonetheless an entertaining entry to a tired genre that manages to stand alone by the simple refusal of the cast and crew involved to phone it in.
15A See IFCO for details
Life is released 23rd March 2017