Hollywood’s obsession with space and the horrors lurking in its vast expanses is becoming quite cliched at the moment. And here comes Life, another addition to the genre, that had some intriguing trailers. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds are the stars in the cast, while Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada form the rest of the cast. Directed by Daniel Espinosa (of Safe House fame) Life promises to be different from other movies of the same genre (notably the upcoming Alien: Covenant). Whether it lives up to its promise is something you have to grasp from the review ahead…
What’s it about
A space capsule carrying some specimens from Mars malfunctions on its way, and it’s upto the 6-member crew of the International Space Station to take possession of the capsule. While they do it successfully, they are also jubilant on finding out the samples from Mars have proof that life exists beyond Earth. They derive a single celled organism from the samples that one of the school kids back on Earth christens as Calvin. The crew gives it the right kind of conditions to breed, and Calvin evolves at a faster rate than expected. However, the team soon finds out that no only is Calvin rapidly evolving, it also has an unmistakable super intelligence as well as being carnivorous. By the time they realise their mistake, Calvin has already made its escape and is killing off the members for its own survival.
Life is unlike any creature movie you have seen as it lets the characters in the movie question the existence of life as a super dangerous organism kills them one by one. Life has some amazing CGI shots especially with the way Calvin evolves during the initial scenes. The design of the spaceship is very realistic and the zero gravity environment created holds true for the premise of the movie. The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is one of Life‘s truest heroes. Check out that amazing 7 minute long unbroken sequence at the start of the movie where it introduces to the space shuttle as well as its occupants. Or for the matter, that POV shot of Calvin as it scuttles around the shuttle looking for its next victim that embraces the campiness of the plot. Daniel Espinosa succeeds in building up enough tension in most portions of the movie. Despite spoiling it in the trailers, the scene where Calvin capsizes Ariyon Bakare’s hand is one of the most nerve-wracking scenes I have seen in recent times. In fact, the first 45 minutes is the best part of the movie. The deaths are quite brutal and the first major snuff-out will definitely shock you. The philosophy behind Calvin’s actions (though not its skill-sets) is interesting, since it brings to forefront one very cruel fact about nature – Only destruction can bring in a new creation.
Even with the inclusion of stars like Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson in the cast, the movie gives prominence to everyone. Each actor pitch in good performances, with the pick of the lot being Gyllenhaal, Ferguson and Bakare. Even when it comes to deaths on screen, the big names are as susceptible to Calvin as the supporting players, and in no particular order. This helps well in adding to the tension of the movie.
The problem with Life is that though it wants to be different from the rest of the movies of its ilk, it ends up, intentionally or unintentionally, referencing them. Of course, you can catch the bits out of the Alien series, The Martian, Gravity and Event Horizon, though I am not spoiling out which bit came from which movie. You can easily figure it out yourself. While Calvin’s evolution from a single celled organism to a dangerous mini space octopus is believable, its extremely smart predatory behaviour and indestructible nature are a little hard to digest. The stupid decisions the ‘smart’ astronauts make and their flimsy characters also help little to feel for them when Calvin bleeds them to death. The movie loses steam in the final half an hour with the scares becoming predictable and scenes dragging to the point of boredom. The final twist can either be seen as a cheap trick or a brilliant deception, depending on how you look at it. I would go with the former, as it fools people who are accustomed to a certain Sandra Bullock space movie.
What to do
Though it doesn’t want to express itself like this, Life is like Ridley Scott’s Alien with philosophical overtones. Filled with some amazing visuals, good actors and a few genuine scares, the movie is quite captivating and engaging, save for an underwhelming conclusion. A nice but not ground-breaking addition to Hollywood’s favourite genre – horrifying space.