Just a little shock.
Life is a new sci-fi/horror film that sports an impressive cast and technical wizardry. We follow a group of astronauts in the ISS as they are working on studying a single-cell organism found on Mars. As is expected, the life form rapidly evolves and begins to attack the crew in what becomes a zero-gravity cat-and-mouse game.
The film provides some solid entertainment, but it also suffers from some odd narrative imbalances. I liked a lot of the characters individually, but they don’t really fit as a cohesive unit. Part of this is due to the film starting off with all of the characters in action, which makes them hard to tell apart, and doesn’t let us get to know them. Further, all of the characters are tense, and this means that the opening of the film is everyone shouting over each other. It seems that the film was trying to raise the stakes of the narrative from the beginning, but instead it is a little off-putting.
Yet, there is redemption for the characters. In the scenes that follow we get to know the characters as they interact with children via video communications. I loved this part, and it showed the different personalities of the characters.
Even with the characters introduced there are still some issues. Rory (Ryan Reynolds) doesn’t fit as well with the tone of the film. I like Reynolds as an actor, but he seems to only be able to play sarcastic smart-mouths lately. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. He does not mesh well with Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) who provides a scientific and philosophical depth of the film. We then have more traditional astronaut-type characters Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) and David (Jake Gyllenhaal). Then, we have badass Ekaterina (Olga Dykhovichnaya) and the immensely likable tech wizard Cho (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Hugh steals the show as a handicapped scientist who works directly with the alien life form (named Calvin by an elementary school on Earth). Hugh provides a high level of ethos and pathos as he studies the formations of life, and comes to the conclusion that life requires destruction. His character is so strong that he doesn’t fit with the rest of the crew as well.
Calvin is likewise an interesting character. Whether you will like the way he looks seems to be somewhat divisive. I personally liked that he (I should probably say it) looked alien it has a unique and almost amoeba like form. Calvin is smart, and the way it moves and hunts the crew is in large part what is causing most critics to draw analogies between this film and the Alien franchise.
I slightly disagree that this film is ripping off Alien, but it is hard to deny some of the similarities. I have been critical of recent Alien films, and one thing that Life has going in its favor is it doesn’t have a long, uneven, and complicated lore behind it. However, a space crew trying to outsmart an alien while being hunted is very similar.
The suspense in Life works for the moment, but most philosophical discussions are dropped entirely once Calvin inevitably gets loose. Instead, we do have a fairly similar retread of a lot of alien-type movies. These sequences aren’t necessarily bad, but they aren’t novel, either. It isn’t a good thing that the twist ending of the film is fairly easily predicted.
In the end we have a sci-fi flick that can stand on its own strength. The negative portions of the narrative don’t outweigh the enjoyment of the experience. Unfortunately, you will not think a lot about the film after the credits roll (something I think the Alien franchise does better). For people like me who left Covenant a little disappointed Life might offer that sci-fi snack you were looking for. Bring the popcorn, this one is worth a watch. 6/10