Jake Gyllenhaal in a scene from Life. Photo: Columbia/Sony Pictures via AP

Life spoilers: stars break down shocking death, bleak ending to space thriller

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal, and script’s co-writer, talk about a couple of twists film-goers may not see coming

SPOILER ALERT: The following discusses plot points and the ending of the movie Life .

Well, you can’t always trust the trailers.

If you watched the cryptic two-minute spot for Life, you probably assumed that scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) would be the first one to die after sticking his hands in the tank housing newfound alien Calvin. But it’s actually maverick mission specialist Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) who is the first to succumb less than 40 minutes into the space thriller, after saving a wounded Hugh from the monstrous Martian.

The risky choice of killing Life’s biggest star so early on was partly out of necessity, says co-writer Rhett Reese. Reynolds initially signed on to play the movie’s lead, astronaut David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), but took a smaller role so he could spend more time with wife Blake Lively, then-pregnant with the couple’s second child.

“That early death allowed him to work on the movie for five or six weeks, as opposed to the entire shoot,” Reese says. “But that character (Rory) – the bravest and most social of the group – was always supposed to be the first to die. We were supposed to be like, ‘Oh, this is going to be the hero,’ and then ironically lose him first.”

Ryan Reynolds in a scene from Life. Photo: Columbia Pictures-Sony via AP

Reynolds felt “mostly relief” reading Rory’s death scene, he jokes. In all seriousness, “I liked that [twist]. It’s healthy for movies to create scenarios that you don’t necessarily expect.”

The bloody sequence was semi-improvised by the Deadpool actor, whose character unwillingly swallows Calvin, only for the alien to emerge larger and more powerful. “Calvin coming out of the mouth was one option of many; we did a bunch of different things,” Reynolds says. “I just looked like a really bad modern dance artist.”

But Rory’s demise is hardly the most shocking twist in Life, which kills off all but two of its astronauts aboard the International Space Station before the third act. David – an ISS veteran who prefers the cosmos to civilisation – realises that the only way to keep Calvin from terrorising Earth is to shoot it further into space. He chooses to sacrifice himself by luring the extraterrestrial into an escape pod, allowing microbiologist Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) to safely head home in the other emergency craft.

It’s only in the last 30 seconds, though, that audiences see the ships got swapped, by virtue of Miranda hitting the wrong button and David’s inability to steer his pod while in Calvin’s clutches. As Miranda hurtles toward her death, David is found in the middle of the ocean by fishermen, entangled in the creature’s giant tentacles.

Ariyon Bakare in a scene from Life.

Although Reese and co-writer Paul Wernick insist that David didn’t intentionally crash on Earth, Gyllenhaal was thrilled by the possibility that his character may have a dark side.

“That was the most interesting part of the whole script, that the character you would assume has renounced everything on Earth ends up being the one to bring the creature [there],” Gyllenhaal says. “I really loved the idea, too, that potentially he was not all good and never had been.”

If Life takes off with audiences, the bleak ending leaves the door open to sequels. “We would love to explore what would happen with Calvin on Earth and how that would manifest itself in a movie, or maybe even several movies,” Wernick says.

Adds Reese: “We like to speculate, ‘What would happen if Calvin started to reproduce? What could they imperil and what would we use to fight them?’ It definitely feels like it could be an interesting sequel.”