Daniel Espinosa’s Life, in which a group of astronauts on board the ISS study a sample from Mars containing extraterrestrial life, isn’t quite dead on arrival, but it certainly doesn’t live up to the lofty heights of its title.
Or maybe it does. After all, what is life really – especially after a heavy gin session – but hard slog in a barely functioning meat suit, ill-equipped to handle anything? If that’s the elemental concept of ‘life’ the title is getting at – that of simply existing – then by that standard it’s great.
It would go a long way to explaining why Life doesn’t really take much interest in its characters. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dr. David Jordan, Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and the rest of the crew live and breathe but the film doesn’t concern itself with what exactly makes them alive; what makes them fight and sacrifice their lives to save others when an extraterrestrial being finally breaks loose.
Of course, Life’s plot forces a comparison to Ridley Scott’s Alien so here goes: Alien is brutal and unflinching in its exploration of what a human body and mind will do to survive in a way that Life simply can’t manage. Through Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, we plumbed the depths of a person’s urge to fight; to exist. Sure, Hiroyuki Sanada’s Sho Kendo has just become a father and Ryan Reynolds is really pretty, so of course they want to live, but for a film about survival, Life doesn’t really bother to explore its visceral nature.
Rather than taking time to flesh out the characters we’re supposed to root for, the film jumps straight into the literal fleshing out. It all happens too quickly for us to care and the whole thing just feels like a high-budget countdown. It doesn’t help there are almost no twists in the film, and the ones that exist are extremely predictable and come long after we’ve mentally checked out.
Still, it’s not actually a truly *bad* film. The cast is good, a brooding Gyllenhaal and a strong performance from Ferguson make Life feel more serviceable than it perhaps would have been in less capable hands. The alien, while nowhere near as terrifying as Scott’s, goes through an interesting transition and the film does have some success with eking out the scares. Ridley Scott won’t be having any nightmares any time soon though. 2/5