An Alien clone, but effective enough to provide a couple of hours of effective jolts, Daniel Espinosa’s (Child 44, Safe House) attempt at delivering the monster-on-the-spaceship premise gets dusted off for one more go-around in Life. Zombieland and Deadpool writing partners Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick get much more deadly serious in their approach this time out, putting the action on the International Space Station, whose six-person crew have just discovered a single-cell organism, the very first evidence of life outside of Earth, within one of the soil samples they’ve taken from Mars.
Powers that be at home want them to do some testing on Calvin, as they’ve dubbed it, before giving the “all clear’ to bring down to a terrestrial lab. Study they do, as Calvin begins to flourish in his new environment, grown far beyond its single-cell existence. However, like the humans on board, it needs oxygen and food to survive, and to eliminate all potential threats, which means that Calvin takes a feed-and-fight approach to any other creatures that might encroach on its new home on board the space station. Meanwhile, the astronauts and scientists do everything in their power to quarantine Calvin, especially in making sure that the deadly entity does not have a chance to reach Earth.
An attractive and talented cast graces Life, with the kinds of solid turns you’d expect out of smart-alecky Ryan Reynolds (Self/less), intense Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals), and confident Rebecca Ferguson (The Girl on the Train). However, starting with an opening scene done in an uninterrupted take that lasts for several minutes, it becomes apparent quite early that big-name actors aren’t going to necessarily equate to big performances, as the thespians take a back seat to the technical side of moviemaking, especially the visual effects, claustrophobic set design and Seamus McGarvey’s (Pan) fluid, gravity-defying cinematography. Nevertheless, the actors do imbue each of the characters, who are generally just fodder for gruesome kills in films such as this, with enough unique personality to keep them from being stock, and the manner in which Calvin interacts with each one of them doesn’t adhere strictly to pure formula, though it also doesn’t divorce from it fully.
Where Life loses a few points is in its inherent recycled story elements, cribbing very liberally from other well-known sci-fi and horror entries like Alien, Sunshine (which also features Hiroyuki Sanada in its cast), Europa Report, and a host of others of its film to come out over the last 40 years, including the Best Picture-nominated Gravity. There are even the blaring horns ofInception whenever a truly nasty appearance of Calvin comes to the screen, if you don’t find the sight of it jarring enough on its own. It also features a curveball toward the end that will likely come as little surprise to most viewers halfway knowledgeable about the clichés of the genre. While it may steal, at least it steals from the best, making Life derivative, but still enjoyable in a B-movie fashion, given a competent A-list cast and high production values.
Qwipster’s rating: B-
MPAA Rated: R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror
Running Time: 103 min.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Ariyon Bakare, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick