Review: ‘Life’ is Good. No, Really.
Ridley Scott’s new Alien movie will hit cinemas later this Spring, but if you don’t want to wait so long to get your space horror kicks, Life is here to tide you over.
The new film from director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44) and the writers behind Deadpool and Zombieland (Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick) is such an unabashed knockoff of the first Alien film that critics have been divided over its merits.
On one hand, we’ve seen this all before. On the other, this is an undeniably well-crafted piece of space terror that does what it does especially well.
1979’s Alien, itself a version of a B-grade 1950s monster movie (It! The Terror from Beyond Space), ushered in a wave of low budget Roger Corman ripoffs of questionable quality, many of which had limited theatrical runs or went straight to video.
Life, meanwhile, is a big-budget affair with state-of-the-art visual effects fronted by movie stars Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal opening in thousands of cinemas across the globe this weekend.
It’s also a pseudo-realistic version of NASA-level space science. Set in what appears to be the present day (or close enough), it’s grounded in a Gravity-like reality as opposed to the usual sci-fi creature feature. While the icky monster movie effects are out there, the space technology seems accurate enough.
It's the same old story: a group of space explorers floating aboard an International Space Station brings aboard an alien life form. Bad idea.
Those astronauts are Russian captain Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), technician Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), doctor Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada), and David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is about to set the record for consecutive days in space.
While established movie stars Reynolds and Gyllenhaal would seem to be our leads, I really liked how the film gives an equal shot to each member of the primary cast. Sanada, Bakare, and especially Dihovichnaya provide the film with some vivid characters, and offer more committed performances than you expect from something like this.
The astronauts, aboard the International Space Station orbiting Earth, receive a special delivery from a Mars probe: a capsule containing evidence of biological life from the red planet.
The life form, named ‘Calvin’, is at first an inert amoeba-like organism, but Bakare’s biologist gets it to wake up, wiggle around, and grow and grow until it’s an intelligent blob-like jellyfish creature that turns the crew members inside out.
You know the rest.
While Life is admittedly nothing more than a trashy Alien clone, it’s one that’s does everything right as Calvin floats around the space station picking off the astronauts one-by-one.
Director Espinosa ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable degree, especially in initial Act 2 scenes of Calvin turning deadly and the crew struggling with how to contain with it. The characters make all the wrong decisions, as necessitated in films like this, but the human error somehow adds to the suspense.
We’ve seen it all before, but rarely done with this level of skill. I enjoyed Life a lot more than I had any right to.
Footnote: I love how coy IMDb’s trivia section is being with the film:
The movie is inspired by Alien.
Life will be released on March 24, 2017 by Columbia Pictures after being moved up from its previously announced release date of May 26, 2017 to avoid competition with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
I’m sure the release of Alien: Covenant on May 18 had nothing to do with it.