The search for extraterrestrial life has been the basis of films going back to the alien invasions films of the 1950s. But as technology and science have caught up to the minds of science fiction writers, we, as a species, have never been closer to proving there is life on other planets. That discovery, and the “worst case scenario” of that discovery is the terrifying basis of the new film, Life.
Life stars Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rebecca Ferguson as astronauts/scientists on the International Space Station tasked with intercepting a satellite from Mars that has collected soil samples and is now returning back to Earth. The team, along with fellow actors Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Ariyon Bakare, are all the best at what they do, and this rainbow coalition space “dream team” has the eyes of the whole world watching as they begin to study the soil for microscopic life.
The first obstacle that the team has to overcome is in “catching” the satellite as it barrels through space after getting hit by some debris as it approached Earth. Cocky Rory Adams (Reynolds) is able to space walk outside the ISS and use an arm on the station to snag the satellite in mid-flight, in a heart pounding seven minute, one take scene that lays the ground work for the tension that Life generates. Medic David Jordan (Gyllenhaal) has broken the record for the longest time a human has been in space, primarily because he hates humanity, and what we, as a collective society, have become. Mission leader Miranda North (Ferguson) has to juggle all of the different personalities, and the mission at hand, as there has never been a more important discovery in the whole of human history. When researcher Hugh Derry (Bakare) is able to reanimate a cell, life is discovered and the world rejoices. But things go terribly, terribly wrong.
Life is a monster movie in space, yet the monster here is a cross between a lotus flower, a shark, and an octopus. The creature design is simple, yet still very terrifying, as it is fast, and relentless, and director David Espinosa ably knows how to create white-knuckle tension with this simple-looking half-shelled oyster gone bad. Espinosa does many things well here, with some incredible breath-taking space shots, that aforementioned seven-minute single take shot to open the film, and utilizing an amazing score by Jon Ekstrand. The script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool) does everything right to conjure up terror, and unlike, say, Ridley Scott’s Alien, which Life could be compared to in its broadest strokes, the monster here doesn’t seem terrifying — until it is. And that is part of the reason that the film works so well.
Life is acted well by the entire ensemble, with each specialist getting their time to shine (and die), and the ending leaves the audience wanting more, which is a sign of a good story, whether it be film, TV, or written prose. While there are a few jump scares, the true terror comes from the even-tightening cord around the throat of the audience as they watch science go terribly, terribly awry.
If there was one issue I had with Life, it would be in some of the actions of the characters when things go bad. I’ve never seen smarter people do such dumb things, things that are out of character based on their mission role and expertise. The actions move the story along, and I get that, but I still found myself questioning these actions in almost every instance. I mean, if I saw a mutant space luggie kill my engineer effortlessly, I would do everything I could to destroy everything in that room, and not open the door to retrieve a body. Dumb.
Life succeeds in what it sets out to do, and that is scare the audience. Days after my screening, I’m still thinking about it, which is always a good sign, and I cannot recommend the film enough, as even with some character decision pitfalls in the script, everything else burns so bright that Life is a must-see film for sci-fi thriller fans, or people who just like to be scared.
Life is rated R and is in theaters now.
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