Life movie review: This Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Renolds sci-fi horror is like Alien meets Gravity
Life itself is a strange film; tense and proficiently made, but also cheesy, melodramatic and severely derivative all in equal parts
It’s kind of odd that we’re currently in an era where Ridley Scott’s Alien has become not just a sci fi horror classic but also a genre. It’s also odd that in the same year we’re getting a Ridley Scott Alien film, we're also getting a film called Life, which is basically an Alien genre film.
Life itself is a strange film; tense and proficiently made, but also cheesy, melodramatic and severely derivative all in equal parts. Much like the creature in the film itself, this film is a specimen to observe with curiosity.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa, who made the memorable Swedish film Easy Money a few years ago, Life once again takes us inside a space ship with a motley crew, who find alien life and then struggle to stay alive. The differentiating factor is that unlike in Alien, Life is set in a believable real world.
The space ship here is the ISS, and the technology inside the ship is (supposedly) realistic. The alien comes aboard the ship in the form of a remnant fossil from Mars, which initially looks cute but then brutally attacks everyone on board. Following the genre tropes, the ship’s crew fails to establish contact with Earth and runs around the vessel to get away from the increasingly large creature.
If you’re looking for some genre thrills where people a) barely escape certain death, b) are involved in jump scares, c) die gruesome deaths at the hands (or mouth) of an alien being, d) reassemble stuff on the space ship to find new ways to counter the alien attack – then Life will be a satisfying experience for you.
The film is basically Alien-meets-Gravity, so there’s plenty of eye candy for both horror and sci fi buffs looking for their staple ‘tropey’ diet.
The movie also doesn’t waste much time in getting to the good stuff – you already know the Alien is going to pounce on the ship’s crew and the moment happens fairly quickly into the film.
The oddly disappointing aspects become clear when you take a look at the talent involved. Some of the ship’s members are Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Fergusson (from MI: Rogue Nation). The script is credited to Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick who earlier wrote Zombieland and Deadpool. The budget is also kind of high. With so much going for it one expects a less derivative and more unique film.
We’re almost led to believe that there is something more than the Alien aspect in the film, but there isn’t. Reynolds’ character, though credited as a lead disappears fairly early into the film. Gyllenhaal delivers what could be the worst performance of his career, with a backstory shoehorned in the most unintentionally hilarious way possible. Fergusson is the stock female character who stands around explaining fairly obvious things to the audience.
None of them make any impact, so when their lives are in danger you don’t feel anything for them.
There are attempts at philosophical commentary about the need for the creature to kill in order to survive but they fall flat. Moreover, the creature itself is given an ‘evil grin’ to make it look menacing – it gets messy considering the film tries extremely hard to sell us a realistic world.
There’s also nothing particularly awesome about the creature design either, it looks like something hurriedly put together. We’re supposed to be in awe of an extra terrestrial life form being found for the first time, but it just doesn’t come through.
There was an internet rumour about Life being an origin story for Venom – given how unoriginal the film is, and how anticlimactic the ending is, one wishes the rumour were true. This could have been a 10 Cloverfield Lane style sci fi mystery. On the bright side we’re soon getting a movie called God Particle which does just that.
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