Life (2017)
Life (2017)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.

Release Date: March 24th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Daniel Espinosa Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ariyon Bakare, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ryan Reynolds, Olga Dihovichnaya

 


 

W

hen the International Space Station’s Pilgrim Mission capsule returns with its haul of Martian samples, history is made. To the wonderment of the ISS crew, and everyone on Earth, a new single-celled organism is discovered. Under the watchful eye of commander Ekaterina Golovkin (Olga Dihovichnaya), exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) begins experimenting on the alien life form in the hopes of waking it from its dormant state. When the creature starts showing signs of activity, and then quickly becomes aggressive, quarantine officer Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) determines to contain the threat. But as the being grows exponentially in size and hostility, North and the rest of the crew, including medical officer Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), flight engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), and systems engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), soon discover the lengths the organism – and each other – will go to stay alive.

With ominous music, utter isolation, and the virtually perceptible coldness of the star-studded vacuum, “Life’s” interpretation of outer space is undeniably bleak. There are no qualms about depicting this environment as uninviting and unnerving. Cleverly, despite the long-awaited samples from Mars, the actual story takes place on the ISS, in orbit around Earth, as if to suggest that humanity is comfortably nearby yet just out of reach – or that a potential rescue wouldn’t be as daunting as the mission launched in “The Martian,” which featured advanced technologies to compensate for the time period. In “Life,” the events could very easily occur in the present – not in some distant century.

In contrast to the vastness of the great unknown, the space station is tubular, narrow, and perfectly claustrophobic. Even the sleeping pods leave little room to toss and turn. Early sequences are given the efficient task of familiarizing audiences with the visual fascinations of the structure and the wonder of being in space; it prioritizes science and design before horror and thrills. Similarly, there’s a nice bit of serenity before the chaos; there’s playful experimentation before the cautionary tale of relentless alien survival techniques kicks in.

Smartly subtle foreshadowing also toys with the viewer, including an eye exam, therapeutic leg exercises, and even the joyous birth of a baby back on Earth. But it’s difficult not to notice the uncomfortableness of a light probing an iris or the taut wince distorting the mother’s face as her child enters the world. Not long after, everything spirals out of control, aided by poor decisions that escalate into fatal catastrophes. Body horror is always just a step away when extraterrestrial entities prove more evil than merely functional.

This is where the film deviates into something a tad gruesome, as “Life” attempts to mimic the shocks of “Alien” – a film so inspirational in the spacebound horror subgenre that it’s impossible not to mention. Even though there are communications problems, substitutes for flamethrowers, quarantine failures, dark corridors, and a tiny crew getting picked off one by one, “Life” musters a few fresh concepts for suspense (though not entirely original to the realm of horror) – including hypothermia, coolant problems, thruster misuse, and low-gravity effects. Visually, the space station sets and the floating movements throughout the computer-readout-littered chambers are better than average; the attention to realistic details is astounding. Also to its credit, the film takes itself deadly seriously, opting to dispense with jokey chatter and comic relief to focus unwaveringly on dread and gore (and even some contradictory understanding of the life form’s motives, which clearly aren’t based solely on instinctual survival). Unfortunately, the finale allows the project to succumb to the very cliches that it seemed to be avoiding in most of the previous moments, turning it into an obvious product for cheap thrills rather than brainy anticipation. Were it not for the ending, “Life” would have been one of the better entries in the exhausting list of “Alien” derivations.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10