Life is a science fiction horror/thriller directed by Daniel Espinosa, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson. It is set in the not-too distant future, aboard the International Space Station in orbit around the earth, where a multi-national team of astronauts and scientists intercept a probe containing rock samples from Mars. Upon examining the sample they find a dormant single cell organism, which is ‘awoken’ when they apply water and glucose to it. This marks a major discovery in human history – the first discovery of living alien life beyond our planet. When it is broadcast to the population below, the children of Earth vote to name it Calvin.
Calvin begins to grow at an alarming rate. Further scientific probing implies that each cell of Calvin’s composition is all muscle, all brain and all eye. During a course of human/alien scientific interaction, the creature starts to realise his place on the food chain and violently breaks free of quarantine. The crew of the ISS must work out how to contain Calvin as it hunts them down one by one, growing smarter by the second and getting bigger after every meal.
As a word, Life is this grand all encompassing word full of mystery and meaning, but it makes for quite a generic name for what is actually a very simple movie. Life is basically a retread of Alien through the lens of the contemporary space setting that worked so well for Gravity and The Martian. Those expecting big Arthur C. Clarke styled 2001 musings on the nature of life and existence within a cosmos we know relatively little about, will be left a little disappointed.
That’s not to denounce Life completely, (huhuh come on guys let’s not denounce life completely) it is an effective and well made zero gravity thriller that basically goes through all the motions you’d expect if you’ve seen Alien or any malevolent creature feature for that matter. The creature itself is interesting enough by design and constantly evolving and changing shape starting out as a kind of gelatin jellyfish before becoming a spidery squid like entity that allows it to scurry around the ship and disappear and reappear quickly for a couple of jump out scares. It doesn’t scare in the way the xenomorph does in the Alien movies, nor carry any of the deeply psychological connortations based on it’s design. However it does have plenty of scenes of gruesome body horror, quite indeed – any hole’s a goal to our Calvin. Ultimately the creature’s intelligence and zest for survival poses more of a vehicle to put the crew through a series of ever worsening scenarios as age old horror convention dictates.
It’s a solid cast, even though they don’t get much to do. Since Donnie Darko, Jake Gyllenhaal has been one of my favourite actors, but Life has him play that quiet and slightly moody character which doesn’t really stretch him as an actor. He has those big sad melancholy eyes and likes it up in space where he doesn’t have to interact with people. Ryan Reynolds basically talks a lot as you’d expect Ryan Reynolds to do in any of his movies, cracks jokes about people’s infidelity, uses a flamethrower at some point – this being Alien – you’ve got to have a flamethrower I guess. Your constantly debating in your mind whether Rebecca Ferguson’s character is going to become the movie’s Ripley as the ship’s acting captain.
Ariyon Bakare as the ship’s lead scientist who is responsible for awaking Calvin in the first place perhaps gets the most interesting arc. He’s a paraplegic who finds new freedom of movement in space, you don’t realise his disability until the movie openly states it. He effectively becomes the ‘daddy’ of the creature who feels a degree of responsibility and affection towards the creature.
The movie’s setting looks fantastic brought to life through physical set design and computer wizardry. The ISS is a believable space within space and everybody floats in the way you’d expect. Despite it’s production and setting, Life does feel like a small claustrophobic movie, and it is because of this, the plot is able to take some risks in ways you might not expect.
The premise of the ever evolving, all deadly, all seeing, all thinking martian squid is at times a little bit silly – as all monster movies are. You’d think NASA quarantine would be much more developed against this kind of thing. But hey, if quarantine protocols were so effective, no movie right? It would just be a lot of talking about this alien starfish and Ryan Reynolds firing off quips all the time.
Seriously, stick him in the airlock…
With the likes of Interstellar and the Martian, the resurgence of space exploration movies in the popular conscious have depicted the sheer horror of space exploration and discovery, but at the same time, underneath, they’ve all carried that pro-Nasa message. We must explore the cosmos for the good of humankind. Life isn’t that movie, it’s a generic space horror that says “no! fuck space and fuck aliens”. In this way it’s quite regressive and pedestrian as a science fiction piece but effective as a space thriller.
I tell you what, what if we didn’t go to space and instead took a unanimous decision to all stay on terra-firma and go have a nice picnic.
Life is a standard sci-fi horror that doesn’t really pull any punches or do anything particularly interesting with it’s premise apart from a few suckerpunches. It’s well made and effective enough to keep you invested throughout, but it won’t answer any deeply burning science fiction questions. It’s solid, but you’ll forget about it soon enough, unless Alien: Covenant turns out to be really terrible and people will start calling Life the Alien movie of 2017 we all deserve.