Film review: Life – Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds meet alien in uneven space horror
A B movie with an A-list cast, Life is heart-poundingly brilliant one minute, ridiculous the next, its main characters too thinly sketched and its supporting cast the interesting ones. A great ending is not enough to save the film
Swedish director Daniel Espinosa jets into space for Life, a glossy B movie with an A-List cast. It doesn’t quite follow the template set by Ridley Scott’s Alien, where the actors were all relatively unknown. Here, Jake Gyllenhaal is a doctor, Ryan Reynolds a cocky engineer who specialises in space walks, and Rebecca Ferguson plays a microbiologist whose priority is protecting our planet from any extraterrestrial diseases.
Set in the present day aboard the International Space Station, the film’s other three cast members – Hiroyuki Sanada’s Japanese systems engineer, Olga Dihovichnaya’s Russian mission commander and Ariyon Bakare’s British biologist – are arguably more interesting. It is Bakare’s character, Hugh, who first discovers evidence of life on Mars, after a space probe brings back samples to the ISS.
The single-cell organism soon grows into a translucent starfish-like creature – nicknamed ‘Calvin’ by the excited masses back on Earth. It doesn’t take long before Calvin becomes hostile; the turning point is a scene that’s both brilliant, as Hugh gets his hand crushed, and ridiculous, as Calvin wraps its tentacles around a broken instrument and uses it to burst out of its containment box.
It’s moments like this that sum Life up: heart-pounding tension spoilt by jarring plot holes. The design and realism of the ISS is impressive and meticulous, with space travel shown as not quite the graceful ballet Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey would have us believe. Likewise, zero gravity is admirably achieved, with actors floating past each other quite beautifully.
By comparison, the characterisation is poorly etched. Aside from one speech about Syria by Gyllenhaal’s medic, there hasn’t been enough work put in by Deadpool screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. As Calvin goes on the rampage, it’s hard to feel for these characters despite the obvious jeopardy. Still, to be fair, there is a marvellous B-movie sting in the tail. It doesn’t save the film, but it’s a brave and bleak denouement.
Life opens on March 23
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