Director. Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal; Rebecca Ferguson; Arion Bakare; Ryan Reynolds; Hiroyuki Sanada
Running Time: 103 minutes
Release Date: March 24th
Life: There are occasional moments of profound beauty and sadness, and desperate fights through crisis, as well as periods of mediocre inactivity. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone you care about to carry you through it all, but near the end, you sort of just want it to be over.
But that’s enough existentialist musing, what’s this film like, then?
Set on the International Space Station, the plot centres on a team of scientists who have isolated a single-cell life-form from Martian soil. Nurturing the specimen in the lab on-board, it’s not long before they realise it is hostile and increasingly uncontrollable; and they must contain the threat it poses, not only to their immediate survival, but to all life back on Earth.
Life hits so many familiar beats, so precisely on time, that its formal structure is hard to fault. It’s driven by a strong, high-concept idea. It is well-presented, its wide, fluid tracking shots effectively presenting the space on the ship and all those who inhabit it. The plot twists and turns exactly where any screenwriting manual would indicate things need to split tangentially, and taper off.
However, the film falls down, hard, creatively. If you have ever seen literally any film about a space invader, with a ragtag team of clashing personalities fighting off a malignant force, you know exactly how all of this is going to go down. While the film attempts a number of ambitiously dark twists, these are too poorly, unbelievably executed to work effectively. This is down to moments in which the motivations of a character transcend a reasonable limit of suspension of disbelief, and a reliance on an emotional engagement with those same characters, who are so inadequately developed, you’d ask the photo shop for a refund. Ryan Reynolds is a wise-cracking astronaut; Hiroyuki Sanada has a newborn baby back on Earth; Jake Gyllenhaal likes being in space more than being on Earth and Rebecca Ferguson is a stickler for protocol. These are less characteristics of a human being, than plot points for each act, indicating exactly what’s going to happen in this film, and no amount of soulful, haunted glances from starboy Jake Gyllenhaal can convince me otherwise.
The sole original property in Life, the alien life form itself, admittedly has potential. Its design and method of execution and attack is effectively disturbing; but its ultimate motivations are vague and unsatisfying, and ‘Calvin’ is surely up there with the least-intimidating monster names of all time (along with Linda, Fluffy, and Sidney Applebaum).
Neither a box of chocolates, a rollercoaster, or a highway; the meaning of Life is ultimately rather unclear and unsatisfying. Its few risks are ineffective and narratively-suspect, and it plays out as predictably as any of the clichés I’ve just referenced above. Sci-fi fans may be intrigued by the alien, and the film’s sleek presentation, but there is little to elevate this film beyond a generic exercise. If Life happens (to be playing in cinemas) while you’re busy making other plans, maybe it wouldn’t be for the worst if it were to pass you by this time.