Life stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and Rebecca Ferguson as astronauts aboard the International Space Station, who recover a space probe returning from Mars. They discover that they found the first evidence of extraterrestrial life, an organism that gets nicknamed Calvin. Calvin begins growing at an alarming rate, eventually becoming strong enough to kill one of the crew members. It is now a fight for survival as the astronauts’ battle against a sophisticated being with no intent on letting them live.
I noticed very early on that Life was resembling many similar qualities as Gravity, as well as Ridley Scott’s Alien. Even the beginning title card was a callback to Alien. Since Alien is my favorite film, I was immediately skeptical of the direction this film was going in. My reservations ended up being unnecessary, as I was surprisingly fond of Life.
The alien (again, named Calvin) in Life was designed, in my opinion, pretty well. It looked kind of like a slimy starfish that could quickly move through space and easily kill any prey. In this day and age, it’s hard for filmmakers to create a completely original alien that sets it apart from every other movie alien. So with what the film was going for, I thought Calvin was a pretty satisfying (and creepy) alien.
The film attempts to use important dialogue on the meaning of life and our existence as a species, but it comes off as just pretentious and forced. As soon as the characters started talking in this sappy and overdramatic way, my eyes would about roll to the back of my head. Audiences have heard this exact dialogue a million times over, and Life isn’t doing anything new with it.
Despite the self-important dialogue, the characters were for the most part very likable. I wanted to see them survive, and I wanted to see them succeed in returning home. All the acting from every cast member (from Gyllenhaal to Hiroyuki Sanada) was pretty fantastic, and mighty convincing.
I also really liked the general tone and visual style to Life. The close quarters of the space craft gave me a sense of hopelessness and insecurity, like any of our main cast could be killed off at any second. The camera work seconded this, as it gave me a strong feeling of claustrophobia. Also noteworthy was the subtle use of lighting around the spaceship, oftentimes reflecting off a crew member’s face or illuminating a dimly lit room. I’ve always had a love for imaginative lighting styles, and Life supplies plenty of it.
Without discussing too much of how the film ends, I felt very disappointed in the last five minutes or so. It took Life in an unsatisfying and unnecessary direction, ultimately leaving a sour taste in the audiences’ mouths. The ending wasn’t horrible per se, I just think that it’s an overused and cop-out way to end a movie.
The biggest issue with Life is that it attempts to recycle dialogue and plot devices from many of its contemporaries. Essentially dooming itself to future obscurity in the process. It’s kind of like the 2013 film Elysium. It isn’t a bad film by any means, but how does Elysium stand out from other science fiction movies like Oblivion, Interstellar, Gravity, or The Martian? The answer? It doesn’t, not one bit. That’s because it’s your run-of-the-mill dystopian flick that makes few attempts at trying new things. Life, in many respects, is very similar.
Life has a lot of great qualities to it, and I had a lot of fun watching it. However, Life just doesn’t distinguish itself enough from all the other sci-fi films out there. With so many acting talents and skilled individuals behind the camera, I feel like they should’ve been able to accomplish this. Instead, I’m sure many will consider this just a slightly above average “stranded in space” movie.
Even with its crummy ending and recycled content, Life still managed to entertain me tremendously. I loved all the characters and their development in the story, as well as the design of the alien. The tone that the film sets is creepy and bleak, and the camera work kept the film interesting. Call me a sucker for science fiction films, but Life nonetheless gave me a worthwhile experience.
The Verdict: B