Life is a refreshing breath of originality in an otherwise dominated genre and industry of prequels, sequels and spin-offs.
Following a team of scientists on the International Space Station (ISS) who collect a returning capsule from a mission to Mars. The capsule contains a biological life form which proves life on Mars (at some point at least), which the scientists are tasked to take care of and test. However, when the entity turns violent the ISS is plunged into a maze of terror as the ever evolving life form grows in size, knowledge and strength.
Any horror/thriller film set in one location in space will of course be compared to Alien (1979) which has stood the test of time for almost 40 years now. So, is Life the new Alien? Probably not. It’s creativity is certainly encouraging with some fantastically original action and horror set-pieces involving a uniquely designed alien predator, similar to the films of the same names Alien and Predator (1987), stalking it’s prey.
Daniel Espinosa (the director) certainly does enough to pay homage to Alien, yet create a distinctly different and new atmosphere, but despite it’s successes, there feels as thought there’s just not enough for Life to hit that “Alien” level of greatness.
The film is almost more of a non-fiction horror than a science fiction horror due to it’s factual basis. Life grounds itself in reality, albeit a space and ISS reality but it’s still in our own time. It’s not set in a distant or vastly alternate reality with a mass amount of sci-fi elements, it instead explores what would happen if tomorrow we found a volatile, deadly life form that we had next to no chance of stopping. This is a credit to writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick for creating an intriguing creative sci-fi narrative that’s yet so real and familiar, which makes it all the more frightening and thought provoking.
The themes of isolation, inferiority and life itself are all used very effectively throughout the film, as with Alien. The extremely confined space of the action creates a claustrophobic intensity to the thriller which keeps you on your toes start to finish.
The discussion of life, and how life continues, is also very interesting. The alien itself must consume to evolve and survive, as do humans, animals, plants etc. life must consume life to survive, that’s the harsh reality. Through this, the film poses the question, what happens when we aren’t at the top of this food chain anymore? Will we be so easily consumed and devoured for another life form to survive? It’s a terrifying concept.
Another personal highlight for me is that Life never felt repetitive or prolonging. Often I find a lot of modern films drag at some point due to not having enough engaging story, poor pacing or repetitiveness. However, Life keeps things moving at a good pace with new and exciting set-pieces to structure a strong narrative. Furthermore, the character’s decision making, in general, is with solid reasoning and logic, unlike most of these sort of films which becomes frustrating and distracting.
One gripe I do have though is that there wasn’t enough emotional attachment to the characters for me. I feel there wasn’t enough character development or bonding time with the crew in order to really care for their safety, like the film wanted me to. There’s certainly elements of this, such as Sho’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) daughter being born and the relationships between some of the crew, but it wasn’t enough to build an emotional connection for me. This is something I feel would have elevated the film from very good, to excellent.
Despite this, none of the actors give a poor performance. Ryan Reynolds provides his comic elements, Rebecca Ferguson is strong throughout, and as are the rest of the cast (Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya and Ariyon Bakare). Jake Gyllenhaal is an actor I’m often drawn to in a film because his performances demand it, he’s usually very good. However he feels under-utilised in Life which is rather frustrating and certainly a problem with the script and not his performance. There’s just not enough emotional weight in the film to really attach me to these characters unfortunately.
The CGI is outstanding, with some truly awe inspiring shots of space and Earth which are hard to tire of. More importantly, I never felt like this was overused or distracting. Films like Gravity (2012), which also has spectacular CGI, dwell on this too much, and along with a rather disengaging, poor narrative it creates a bit of an empty shell of a film.
In conclusion, Life provides a somewhat fresh, creativity to the blockbuster industry which is so often overlooked or disregarded in favour of prequels, sequels, adaptations and so on. The film explores its themes effectively and uniquely, however it lacks that extra emotional weight to carry the film higher. The lack of character development deeply hurts what could have been a new sci-fi classic.