What do you get when you take a bunch of smart scientists and have them make a bunch of dumb decisions while in space? Every sci-fi horror/thriller, that's what. It's become a staple in these movies to move the plot forward because let's face it, if smart people did nothing but smart things in every horror movie it would be over in five minutes and that makes for a very dull movie. So we suspend our disbelief and watch this play out time and again to varying degrees of effectiveness. Enter Life, yet another horror/thriller with a bunch of scientists in space. Was it different enough to stand out, or just more of the same? Let's break it down, and for anyone who hasn't seen it - MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
When I first saw trailers for Life it was impossible for me to not instantly think of Alien, and for all intents and purposes, that's what Life is. It isn't Alien beat for beat but you can definitely tell that it is a love letter of sorts to Ridley Scott's horror masterpiece. Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and directed by Daniel Espinosa, Life follows a crew of six - played by Hiroyuki Sanada, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Ariyon Bakare - aboard the international space station that discover a Martian life form, and obviously since it is a horror movie scary things happen and people end up dead. Already you can see the parallels to Alien and if I'm being honest, it was really hard for me keep the two separate while I was watching, but I'll do my best to not constantly compare them.
First, let's talk about acting. Most of it is really good. With Gyllenhaal, Reynolds, and Ferguson in your main roster you're bound to get some good performances, and for the most part, that holds true. I think Rebecca Ferguson performs the best out of all of them, but Jake Gyllenhaal's performance is pretty good as well. I must admit I was disappointed with Ryan Reynolds. Not because is performance was bad, but because he's the one we get the least amount of screen time with because he dies first. We don't get as much time to spend with them as a group as I would have liked to increase the level of care I had for them, but we get enough time to keep me interested. This might be due to the movie's run time clocking in under two hours, and it definitely felt like a fast watch.
Where story is concerned, again, it's basically Alien but that's not a bad thing. The crew rescues a malfunctioning capsule that was on its way back from Mars containing a specimen that turns out to be the first confirmed existence of life beyond Earth. Upon studying the life form it starts to grow at an alarming rate as well as exhibit signs of intelligence. It end up breaking out of its containment cell and starts picking off the crew one by one. Stop thinking about Alien, it isn't Alien! I will admit that the story kind of peters out during the last half hour of the movie, but we'll get to that later.
From a technical aspect, this movie is beyond exceptional. The opening shot in particular I liked a lot. It opens with a tracking shot following various crew members around. The camera doesn't cut for at least the first five minutes and it's really really good. It gives us a good layout of the space station as well as following the crew members around in zero gravity. The whole movie takes place in zero gravity which is pretty neat because the camera moves around everyone a lot. The actual alien is pretty cool as well. It starts off as a single cell organism and we get to watch it evolve throughout the movie. It ends up looking like part squid, part starfish, part hell spawn and is one of most unique alien designs I've seen in a while.
This movie isn't as violent as I expected it to be, but what the alien - dubbed "Calvin" - does to people is pretty intense. As I said, Ryan Reynolds is the first to die, and this is done by Calvin forcing its way down is throat causing him to choke to death and cough up blood that just floats around since there isn't any gravity. It was a pretty cool effect to see. As Calvin evolves it learns to hunt and kill more effectively which makes for some legitimately scary moments in the movie. Unfortunately, as I also said before the movie peters out about two thirds of the way in. This is mainly because Calvin stops evolving at a certain point and the movie kind of stops evolving along side it. We get to the point in the movie where Gyllenhaal and Ferguson are the only characters left and they have to get to the escape pods. Gyllenhaal decides to lure Calvin into one of the pods and manually guide it into deep space to ensure that Calvin doesn't reach Earth, sacrificing himself in the process while Ferguson takes the other pod back to Earth. The movie tries for a shocking twist that you can see coming a mile away and whoops the pod containing Calvin went to earth while Ferguson's pod goes haywire and spins out of control into the darkness of space. It was a super predictable ending but the idea of a sequel with Calvin running amok on Earth while we have to try and combat it sounds intriguing.
Overall, while very reminiscent of Alien, Life is a pretty good movie that I would highly recommend. It will be one that I will add to my collection when it hits Blu-ray. Did you see Life? Did you disregard my spoiler warning and read all of this without having seen it and now you want to? Do you not want to? Let me know in the comments!