Released: March 24, 2017. Directed by: Daniel Espinosa. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds. Runtime: 1h 44 min.
A crew at the International Space Station – two Americans, two Brits, a Russian and a Japanese dude – are tasked with retrieving a sample from Mars that could contain the first proof of extraterrestrial life, and the first evidence of life on Mars (hence the title of Life).
After it gets on board, things go awry – and they still have to get it home because of what it means for science. The cute little guy does look like the parasite at the beginning of The Faculty, and the life-form is given the name Calvin by an elementary school.
Sounds cute enough, right? Don’t let names fool you because it becomes quite frightening when it starts bulking up.
The British biologist on the crew, Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is the only one who actually calls the little thing Calvin, as he spends his time studying it. He nearly seems fatherly to it, which brings up interesting dynamics because others are extremely wary of it. They’re afraid of the unknown thing – and for good damn reason.
I liked Hugh’s story because there’s a heartwarming aspect that he’s wheelchair-bound on Earth, but when he’s in space he can float around and do almost anything his heart desires.
The rest of the crew includes Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), an American medical officer, whose story is cool, too, because he likes the hum of space. The other American is system engineer Rory Adams, played by Ryan Reynolds.
Rebecca Ferguson plays Britain’s other representation Miranda North, who’s in charge of keeping the specimen in quarantine. Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) is the Russian crew commander of the International Space Station. The crew pilot is Sho Murakam and is played by Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada.
The cast assembled makes an impressive ensemble. So much screen time is shared that they’re all supporting performers more than leading, even though Gyllenhaal, Ferguson and Reynolds are the most recognizable of the bunch. Gyllenhaal and Ferguson also offer the most compelling performances. No one’s wearing the redshirt from Star Trek per se, but there are people who feel more expendable. Talents don’t get wasted – but some are less utilized than others. Naturally, the cast’s chemistry is good since they’re stuck on a space station together.
They all have nice banter and the dialogue’s well-written. It’s witty and best fit for Ryan Reynolds since it’s from the minds of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (writers of Deadpool and Zombieland). The writing pair also bring in a smart amount of scientific dialogue that’s so nerdy, you’re thankful that some characters dumb it down for us.
The story of Life wears its homage to Alien on its sleeve and while it is nothing new, it’s an entertaining and unnerving ride. It takes a hardcore horror route and it’s surprising in its brutality and it packs relentless, edge-of-your-seat thrills. It’s quite scary, and that’s what helps it be a great addition to the trapped in space genre.
The premise is just so terrifying, when they’re trapped with something they can’t permanently escape from, and it’s a hell of a long phone call away from Earth. It’s just freaky that they can’t be helped, and it shows how much can go wrong in the limitlessness of space. Some of the cinematography’s a bit too dark to see some aspects, but otherwise the visuals are great.
The only part of the writing that doesn’t compel is the beginning because it’s plainly trying to get into the story, but it’s helped by smart dialogue. When the carnage begins, it comes with a force that doesn’t let go. It makes at least an hour of this a lot of fun and scary, and the writers find a way to breathe fresh life into a premise we’ve seen before.
The writers can do it all when it comes to foul-mouthed superheroes, zombie horror comedies and now bat-shit craziness of astronauts being trapped in space with Calvin. He might not go down in the same infamy as the Xenomorph from Alien, but he’s memorable and I won’t be going to space anytime soon.