Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Ariyon Bakare, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya
Plot: The ISS intercepts a Mars organism that turns out to be a living creature. However, its evolution and survival instinct is beyond anything expected.
Before we begin, I just want to draw attention to the fact it is impossibly difficult to review Life without making every sentence sound like a poetic metaphor for existence. Life is a terrifying roller-coaster. Life will keep you up at night in fear. Life is entertainment at its best.
In all seriousness, Life is a contender for scariest movie of the year. For most of us, Life passed us by (I can’t stop!), skipping through cinemas with minimal reaction. It looked too carbon-copied from the Sci-Fi horrors we have seen before. Life’s biggest downfall is how closely it sticks to the atmosphere and story structure of Ridley Scott’s original Alien film. While there is a strong argument to be made that any film that features an unknown alien creature being accidentally allowed into a spaceship that descends into horror will inevitably be compared to the film lucky enough to have come up with the idea first, it is hard not to feel a little like a Xenomorph should be popping around the corner for a shock twist finale. However, at the same time, if you are going to do one horror movie monster to death, you might as well go to aliens. What extra-terrestrials have over the likes of zombies, vampires and serial killer horrors is that the rules drastically change from film to film. With zombies, we know that, while the mythology is usually altered slightly, we are going to get a brain-dead humanoid that bites to turn you into one of them. With an alien, anything goes, a brand new rule-book opened with every film. It gives Life its strongest achievement, as the audience watches, paralysed with fear, at this new alien organism that could do or be capable of almost anything. Espinosa moves away from Ridley Scott in how he builds up the tension for the creature visually. With the Xenomorph, it was always best kept to the shadows. Its power almost grew from its mystique and how even when the end credits rolled we knew so little about it. Life’s creature, dubbed Calvin by the general public, rarely hides away. Arguably, while it grows with every change, it doesn’t really change its appearance, that same ghostly shape from start to finish. The only new feature is the beginnings of a face which appear in its body, when the organism gets to its final size. The true suspense lies in what Calvin can do. There is also a reading possible from the film that Calvin murders out of survival, not malice like the Xenomorph. His attacks are usually unwittingly prompted by something. He encounters the pet mouse and, out of curiosity, approaches. When the mouse bites out in fear, Calvin reacts with an offensive defence, killing the source of the pain before it can do him more harm. His murder is so graphically awful (arguably the mouse gets the most gruesome finish out of the entire cast, mainly because there are no cuts away), the humans aboard the ship respond with violence in turn. Other times, Calvin kills as a means to get away from the vacuum of space or perhaps as a desperate attempt to survive. There are small moments in the movie, where Calvin does not strike right away, suggesting the creature is capable of mercy. These readings do not slow down the film at all, merely give the chosen monster a depth not necessarily afforded to many horror movie villains.
While the chosen monster is easily the draw of this film, that shouldn’t take away from Espinosa’s talents to the other aspects of the film. Hell, when all is said and done few people even find the time to marvel at the camerawork, the viewpoint of the film floating in zero-gravity, the same as the actors, simple shots made mesmerisingly complex as they hover upside down and drift through the action. His talent for pacing is incredible, only arguably slipping at the start, when a handful of characters miss out on developing. Ryan Reynolds is pretty much Ryan Reynolds, asked to crack jokes before the fear takes over and character growth hits the brakes. However, this does mean that Life is a nail-biting, thrill ride to the end, almost the alternative film for those that cannot afford the patience needed to truly mine the cinematic depth of the original Alien movie. The likes of Jake Gyllenhaal and Ariyon Bakare are fleshed out enough so you care about what happens to them and then we are putting time into the essence of the chase. Space is scary enough at the best of times, wandering out onto an oxygenless vacuum to fix a communications tower terrifying, even without the deadly predator stalking the outside of the ship. The weightless chases through the craft are pulse-pounding as the creature effortlessly bounds around the ship, humans pathetically slow in their clunky spacesuits. Espinosa doesn’t need cheap jump scare tricks or showy gore moments to hit home the terror of his creation. The end result is a Sci-Fi horror so amazingly crafted, you are left reeling at what you’ve just seen, especially the sucker punch of an ending that demands, at the very least, a couple of producers banging their heads together and thinking about a sequel.
Final Verdict: Yes, the Xenomorph roots are there, but Life is worth checking out, a break neck thriller that genuinely gets your pulse pounding.