Hot Take: There’s enough of Gravity and Alien here that Life has a hard time standing on its own. There’s more positives than negatives though which makes Life a decent Sci-Fi horror flick.
You’ve seen Life before. Some people won’t get past the fact that the plot is so similar to Alien and borrows more than it should from Gravity. That’s a shame because Life is an adequate Sci-Fi horror/thriller. If you dismiss Life solely on these obvious glaring issues, you’ll miss some very good performances from a committed cast, sleek visuals and a suspenseful build up to a huge third act payoff.
Life features an all-star cast including the recognizable Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson and the less recognizable Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya who mesh together really well in Hollywood’s latest cautionary tale about finding alien life. Even if you didn’t see the trailer, as soon as the single cell is extracted from the soil sample returned from Mars and the crew begins its experimentation, you can smell trouble. Once the single cell moves, you are never swayed by the exuberance and excitement from the crew that they are in for more than they bargained for.
As Life progresses, as much as it rips off previous peril in space films, it also learns from Alien, Gravity and others to occasionally show signs of evolution in its storytelling. Much of this is lost in the film’s love affair with unnecessary exposition. We see a lot on screen that our actors are then asked to verbalize as if we’re watching the movie with our eyes closed. Sometimes it makes more sense than others as the crew are in communication with each other through headsets. Then there’s other times when there are scenes where we see our characters shivering and frosty breath while they tell us, “It’s soooo cold!” Really? We didn’t notice!
Say what you want about its derivative nature but Life sticks the landing on some impressive visuals. I like the evolution of Calvin (that’s the name a grade school gives the first proof of alien life found per the film’s story) as it grows rapidly and becomes a full fledged monster. As much as we avoid spoilers here, not all of the crew survives and those death scenes are both visually spectacular and horrific. The film’s intensity ratchets up enough to keep Life interesting. It could use more energy at times but, again, that’s when comparing it to other films in the same genre which there are many.
Albeit the strong cast, there is some lazy character development here. There are minute facts dropped about each character that substitutes for character development and feels lackadaisical. Maybe director Daniel Espinosa was so focused on the visual aspect that character development took a back seat. You end up caring about some of the characters — I’m looking you’re direction, Ryan Reynolds — because of the actor portraying them rather than actual character development.
Despite its flaws, Life worked for this viewer. There was enough tension and build that made the third act much better than the rest of the film. Even though I didn’t really care that much about the characters (which was not the fault of the very game ensemble cast), Life delivered on a more existential level even if it was a somewhat simplistic creature feature at its core.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
From a rather harmless single cell organism to a multi-cellular monster, Calvin’s visual transformation is rather impressive.
- The Performances of the Crew
Despite little to go on thanks to plot severely lacking anything more than superficial character development, the acting by Gyllenhaal, Reynolds, Ferguson & company overcome some of the missing pieces that essentially make for one-dimensional characters.
- Loved the Ending!
It’s spoiler free here so there’s not much that can be said other than it is one of the best endings (if not THE best endings) of 2017 so far.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- You Can’t Unsee the Comparisons to Better Films You’ve Seen
For me, I kept seeing Alien and all of its spawn and Gravity. There are others that you might think of, too. Unfortunately, that hurts Life as usually the comparison was better.
- Feed Me, Seymour!
Speaking of comparisons, in the opening moments of the organism coming to life, there’s a scene that is eerily reminiscent to Little Shop of Horrors. The only thing missing is Ariyon Bakare singing “Grow for Me.”