Life is a 2017 science fiction, horror film directed by Daniel Espinosa. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds.
The film follows a six-member team of astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The group are tasked with capturing a probe returning from Mars. It contains a soil sample that might hold evidence of extra-terrestrial life. I found the opening to be really intense. However, I struggled to keep up with an overload of scientific jargon that made proceedings a little hard to follow.
Exobiologist Hugh Derry revives a dormant cell from the sample. It quickly grows into a multi-celled organism that American school children name “Calvin”.
After an atmospheric accident in the lab, Calvin becomes dormant. Hugh revives Calvin with mild electric shocks, but Calvin immediately becomes hostile and attacks Hugh, crushing his hand. Hugh lies seemingly comatose from Calvin’s attack. Calvin uses the electric shock tool Hugh wielded to escape his immediate enclosure. Now free in the lab room, Calvin devours a lab rat and grows in size. Engineer Rory Adams uses the opportunity to enter the room and rescue Hugh. However, Calvin latches onto Rory’s leg and physician David Jordan locks Rory in the room to keep Calvin contained.
After Rory unsuccessfully attacks Calvin with a flame thrower, Calvin enters his mouth, killing him from the inside. Emerging from Rory’s mouth even larger, Calvin escapes through a vent. Hugh theorizes that lack of breathable air on Mars is what kept the organism dormant.
It soon becomes apparent that communication with Earth has been cut off. When an attempt to fix this problem fails, the team are left with few options. They are trapped inside a space station with an ever-evolving, ever-growing being that will do whatever it takes to survive. Calvin isn’t evil by nature but its intelligence and violent tendencies are frightening. No matter what happens, it cannot be allowed to make it to Earth.
Life is a solid fusion of science fiction and horror but it isn’t without its share of problems. Its biggest issue is that it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. We’ve seen isolated people in space being hunted by a relentless beast before and we’ve seen it done better.
The crew are a legitimate team of engineers, scientists & doctors, presented as realistic people. While the acting does make everything feel genuine, their actions do not. They act like characters in a horror movie, not like actual astronauts. I’m not about to write a whole list here but there is plenty to nitpick. There are a number of poor choices that will leave you scratching your head. On a positive note, Life looks the part. The cinematography is a delightful feast for the eyes. Calvin is an intimidating creature. As I mentioned above, its ability to learn is unnerving. Unfortunately, I found this slowly becoming ridiculous as the climax approached.
At one point Calvin is trapped outside the station. It’s organic but manages to survive for an extended period of time without air, in the vacuum of space. It isn’t really explained too well why this is. It’s even more confusing later on. Calvin is back inside and they attempt to lure it to a location by lowering the oxygen levels. Suddenly, Calvin is apparently dependent on Oxygen to survive.
I can’t be certain but I don’t recall ever seeing blood in zero-gravity look as awesome as it does here.
The characters and their motivations are other big issues with Life. I recall myself rooting for Sho Murakami more than any other. It’s simply because he has just witnessed his partner giving birth. I’m not saying that this makes his life more important than others, it’s just you learn very little about them. Ryan Reynolds mentions that he has a dog he wants to get back to. Jake Gyllenhaal wishes to never return to Earth at all. His explanation is understandable but it doesn’t make him particularly relatable. The strong performances do as much as they can to make you care about the characters. Unfortunately, they are hindered by poor writing.
Overall: Life is an enjoyable film but one with problems. If Alien & Gravity had a baby, it would be called Life. However, I cannot deny that there are a couple of really tense scenes that will keep you hooked. Finally, while I found it to be rather predictable I commend the ending.