Life (2017)

  • Time: 103 min
  • Genre: Horror | Sci-Fi | Thriller
  • Director: Daniel Espinosa
  • Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson


Six astronauts aboard the space station study a sample collected from Mars that could provide evidence for extraterrestrial life on the Red Planet. The crew determines that the sample contains a large, single-celled organism – the first example of life beyond Earth. But..things aren’t always what they seem. As the crew begins to conduct research, and their methods end up having unintended consequences, the life form proves more intelligent than anyone ever expected.

3 reviews

  • (RATING: ☆☆☆ out of 5 )

    GRADE: C+


    IN BRIEF: Life disappoints.

    SYNOPSIS: Life can be quite deadly as a group of astronauts discover in this typical sci-fi thriller.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 43 mins.

    No one may hear a scream in outer space. But in Daniel Espinoso‘s well-crafted Life, the latest sci-fi horror film which follows that successful Alien formula, you do hear, with added certainty, an annoyingly loud music score that regularly blasts its notes to warn of impending doom. Six internationally diverse NASA professionals find life amid the soil samples from Mars. As this multi-celled organism begins to take form, so does the predicability of this film. It’s par for the course, that the trained astronauts grow dumb and dumber while our little plant monster (affectionately named Calvin) grows stronger and bigger. There’s no account that there will be room for human error on the screen. Dinner will be served soon enough!

    However, the behind-the-scenes human talent have made a technically strong film. One can definitely observe that the filmmakers took a more intellectual and earnest approach to this genre with their willingness to spend more time with the characters and setting before the initial scares begin. Shamus McGarvey’s fluid camerawork is above reproach as is Nigel Phelp’s production design. Mr. Espinoso’s direction builds some nice tension too.

    But the script is a mere clone with its “been there / done that” formula. It’s not that Life’s screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is lifeless…it’s just redundant and unexciting in its lack of imagination. It’s not as if the writers don’t try to create compelling characters by establishing background exposition on the six astronauts aboard. And there is some nice sleight-of-hand moments in the film’s climax. But all that skill cannot disguise the simplistic plot mechanisms so intrinsic with the sci-fi nature of its origins.

    Life begins as a serious film odyssey about space exploration before it take the rote route into the horror genre and settles into a standard schlocky monster flick to see who gets offed next and how gruesome the death can be. The monster itself isn’t very scary. It’s not hideous or creepy, with its octopoid tentacles and jellyfish form undulating quite gracefully before lunging at its helpless victims.

    The actors (or human entrees) along for the ride are an impressive group of performers who have done much better in other outings but are saddled here with stock characters caught in a familiar plot, no matter have solidly Mr. Espinoso directs them. They are: Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and lesser known actors as Olga Dihovichnaya, Hiroyuki Sabada, and Ariyon Bakare, all rounding out the sextet of space travelers.

    To summarize: Calvin is actually Audrey III of Outer Space, a toothless, less terrifying creature that preys on other lifeforms. Its appetite may be insatiable but moviegoers should take heed of this simplistic horror film with its cheap thrills and gory kills. As the saying goes, Life can be full of disappointments.

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  • Though its essential premise is Alien meets Gravity, Life is nonetheless a wholly solid and satisfying space thriller. It may have the misfortune of being released a couple of months before Ridley Scott’s much-anticipated and presumably far more serious-minded Alien: Covenant, yet it may not be too much of an exaggeration to venture that Life is possibly the more entertaining and re-watchable film.

    Life quickly introduces audiences to the six-person ensemble that comprises the Mars Pilgrim 7 mission via an impressive nearly-seven-minute vfx-assisted single take that finds cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s camera hovering above, below, and alongside the crew members as they work together to retrieve a capsule containing samples from Mars. There’s wisecracking space cowboy Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), disciplined microbiologist Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), disabled lead scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), mission commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), system engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), and crew doctor David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has been in space far longer than anyone should be and would rather not return to Earth.

    Capsule retrieved, Hugh gets to work testing the sample of a single-celled life form, which stirs to life once Hugh gives it glycerin. Soon the life form, now dubbed “Calvin,” begins to multiply and exhibit impressive characteristics – every cell has muscular, neural and photoreceptive properties. As Miranda succinctly observes, Calvin is “all muscle, all brain and all eye,” which makes him a formidable and nearly unstoppable enemy once a mishap results in Calvin escaping his confines and claiming his first victim. The remaining members must figure out a way to capture and destroy Calvin before he gets to them and/or the Pilgrim re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

    Though the ensuing events are predictable, it doesn’t take away from the film’s white-knuckle, stomach-churning thrills. Director Daniel Espinosa expertly paces the film, building up the suspense, and then ramping up the tension to maximum effect. He and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick devise often inventive ways for characters to meet their demise and, whilst Calvin may not possess the penchant for chest-bursting and blood-splattering that Ridley Scott’s alien has, his methods are just as squeamish and strangely poetic. One particularly striking image has one victim floating in the laboratory, globules of blood pooling around him as his figure hovers about like the horribly discarded flesh in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin.

    All of the characters, unlike most films in this genre, are all distinctive and have significant roles to play. They’re not immune from making terrible and sometimes stupid decisions, but the inanity is not egregious. Life doesn’t get too philosophical – it knows what its here to do and it does its job extremely well – yet it also demonstrates that, whether human or alien, the need to survive is what drives us all.

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  • Six members of the International Space Station, bring back with them what appears to be the first confirmation of living existence on Mars. They name it “Calvin” and attempt to call it that at every turn (I found this really annoying). “Calvin” after being awoken with electric shock therapy (not a good idea), turns on said members and is bent on killing them one by one. This leech-like creature can survive in any environment and its growth spurt is indeed rapid. As one biologist from the agog crew states, “it doesn’t hate any human but it needs to kill to survive.” How reassuring.

    Anyway, that’s the gist of 2017’s Life, my latest review. Minus a happy ending (it’s the antithesis to 2013’s Gravity) and containing traumatizing ways in which space workers die, Life is a Twilight Zone nightmare and an effective one at that. It’s the type of trepidation you tell your friends about after you leave the theater shaken like a Vesper Martini.

    Ryan Reynolds co-stars in Life. I’ve never been a huge fan of his so I was happily surprised when Ryan’s character was the first one to perish in outer space (spoiler alert). I can always do without his smarmy personality. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Jake Gyllenhaal. Although I haven’t seen every Gyllenhaal movie, the ones I have seen him in are all recommendable. Truth be told, he’s one of the best actors in the business. Jake also co-stars in Life. Yeah, it’s one of this year’s best films.

    So hey, Life is good. No I’m not talking about life itself, I’m talking about the darn movie. Critics have been calling it a retread of Alien. Allow me to retort. Life is an unsettling, sci-fi horror film that stands on its own. It doesn’t need to be compared to Ridley Scott’s 1979 megahit. Now granted, Ridley is gearing up for a resurgence in the Alien franchise titled, Alien: Covenant. Life, with its nasty life form looking a starfish from hell and then growing into a badass serpent, will aptly bide time with science fiction enthusiasts. Originally slated to be released in May, it makes sense that Life got moved back to this month. I mean why should there be a need to compete with “Covenant” and a legend like Scott.

    Tentacle alien species and slight movie plagiarism aside, Life is directed by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa. Remember his 2012 release Safe House? I do and this is a heck of a lot better. Espinosa does a bang-up job with Life, creating an outer atmosphere in which fervent fear and mission failure are inevitable. The script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick requires the crew members in Life to eventually lose all radio communication with planet Earth. I know it’s a sci-fi thriller cliche but that notion is still very unsettling.

    Getting back to director Espinosa. He opens the film via a single continuous shot for the ages, letting his camera follow troupers with the impulse of zero gravity lingering. He then infuses lots of actor close-ups during Life’s brisk, 103-minute running time. Not going too overboard with the required, space probe gimmickry, Mr. Espinosa moves the proceedings along, giving Life ratcheting tension right from the 20-minute mark. With a modest budget of $58 million, Life doesn’t lack originality (as mentioned earlier). Instead, it reinvents it adding viability to the sci-fi genre cesspool. Bottom line: Life is a real winner. Again, I’m talking about the dang movie. Natch. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

    Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

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