Hollywood’s current fascination with everything about space spills over into its latest sci-fi thriller Life. But unlike the survival films like Gravity, The Martian or Interstellar, Life seems more inspired by the 1979 classic Alien.
Set in the claustrophobic International Space Station, you’re introduced to the six-member, multicultural crew— that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds—as they try do heroic things to retrieve a space capsule bringing samples from Mars.
One of the Martian discoveries is an inert microscopic, single-celled organism. But as every sci-fi film fan knows, nothing good ever comes from dealing with alien life forms. The tiny, seemingly-friendly creature, who gets the cutesy name ‘Calvin’ from schoolkids on Earth, soon transforms from a gentle swaying weed to a tentacled creature with an insatiable appetite.
The first half of the movie veers from slow, calm moments of introspection to heart-thumping suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat. There are a few laughs, all thanks to a handful of one-liners from Ryan Reynolds (not surprisingly reminiscent of Deadpool since Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have written the script for both movies).
The camaraderie between the crew is heartwarming, and each of the six actors gets their moment of glory in the movie, with touching moments thrown in.
There’s Hugh Derry (brilliantly portrayed by Ariyon Bakare), who loves to stay in space because he doesn’t need his wheelchair anymore, and then there’s Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), a cheerful, caring team leader who has to take cold-blooded, tough decisions.
But since there’s no standout ‘hero’, a la Officer Ripley in Alien, you really don’t know who’ll make it to the end.
However, the second half of the movie soon begins to unravel. It’s too full of cliches to keep you entirely engaged and becomes almost predictable as ‘Calvin’ goes on a killing spree to survive. Think slasher flick where the enemy is hell-bent on eviscerating everyone even as they try one trick after another to survive.
There’s even a sequence captured through the creature’s ‘eyes’ as it stalks the crew but it ends up being the least thrilling scene in the entire film. It’s more a combination of Jaws-cum-Anaconda-cum-Piranha, as you try to vaguely make out what’s happening through a blurry, aqueous lens.
What’s most disappointing is how Calvin starts with the intriguing concept of being “all muscle, all brain, all eye”, but soon turns into a cliched alien who seems to be a rip-off of creatures from Alien and Independence Day, with a ‘face’ and tentacles.
Even the action scenes lose their tautness towards the end with confusing close-ups and vague, gruesome action in the background. The movie has a few gory scenes, but they’re too few to keep you terrified of ‘Calvin’ for long.
Fortunately, director Daniel Espinosa goes all out in the last 15 minutes of the movie with stunning cinematography, heart-thumping action and a sensational sequence that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Life could have been another run-of-the-mill space movie but what makes this intense drama watchable is the cast’s charismatic performances coupled with slick direction, a few spine-chilling moments and fast-paced sequences.