Director – Daniel Espinosa
Cast – Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ryan Reynolds
Release Year – 2017
Reviewed by John of the Dead
“We were better off alone.” is the film’s tagline, and it could not be more appropriate. I love stories like these, where humans in space are faced with an overwhelming force and nowhere to run from it. Because of this, I went in with high hopes and I am glad to say I left satisfied. I was unsure of how the horror would play out. Going into the film I had only watched one trailer (the first one) and it didn’t show very much. Would this simply be a sci-fi thriller where someone gets infected and nothing grand happens, or would we be given the monster film I was hoping for. Again, I left satisfied, and that is a result of me being given a space-themed creature feature. From first-time horror director Daniel Espinosa (Child 44) and the writers for Deadpool (Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) comes a tale heavy intension and a level of horror I did not see coming.
Six astronauts onboard an international space station have just completed the most important phase of their mission: retrieve evidence of life on Mars. With the single-celled organism on board, questions abound and answers must be found. What does this do for the meaning of life? What does this say about our past, and can this discovery improve the quality of life on Earth? Curiosity lead this crew to make mankind’s greatest discovery. Consequentially, this same curiosity puts mankind in harm’s way when the tiny organism proves to be one of overwhelming capability. With communication with Earth severed and a constantly growing, evolving, and learning creature on the loose, the dwindling number of surviving scientists must stop this discovery from reaching Earth, no matter the cost.
The story kicks off with our astronauts already in space and moments away from analyzing the soil samples taken from Mars. British biologist Hugh Derry makes the discovery of the single-celled organism, but he doesn’t stop there. He employs his own expertise to revive the life form, which had laid dormant due to Mars’ currently uninhabitable atmosphere. He is joined by Americans Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Quarantine Officer Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson; The Girl on the Train) of Britain, Japanese Scientist Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada; Sunshine, Helix), and the mission leader Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) of Russia. The reanimation of this organism not only brings elation to the crew, but to the entire world as well. We are shown scenes of the masses tuned in to the discovery, and an elementary school was allowed to pick the name of the organism. They named him Calvin. Dr. Jordan jokes to Derry that the reviving of Calvin made him a father, and that is metaphorically true. Derry’s relationship with Calvin is remarkable, and the filmmakers give you a full-frontal experience to this discovery and its revelations. We watch as Calvin grows and learns to interact with his surroundings, and he does so in an innocent fashion. It isn’t until a simple mistake is made and a tragedy results that Calvin takes on antagonistic abilities the crew did not see coming. This also results in a death the viewer will not see coming. It becomes apparent here, at the 33-minute mark, that nobody is safe and the remaining runtime will be spent with our protagonists in survival mode against a creature they do not fully understand.
I was very pleased at the horror written into the film. Not only was I glad to see this single-celled organism insidiously grow into a force to be reckoned with, but the kills it delivered were equally satisfying. There are no quick or painless deaths here. Each kill is haunting, slow, painful, and shown in full-frontal fashion. The direction delivers the kills (and Calvin) with CGI, but much to my surprise I was not disappointed with this. These scenes were executed so well that I was still hit hard by what I saw. Practical effects would have of course made this an even more enjoyable experience, but they were not a necessity here. The setting also made for loads of tension given there were few places the protagonists could run, or should I say “float” to. There will be times when they are forced to leave the space station, and thankfully the horror goes with them. This of course only ups the ante, and I noticed the group of people on my right all sitting forward on the edge of their seats during these scenes.
While I highly enjoyed this effort there was at least one qualm I had with it and it involves the story. We are never given much info on why each of the six scientists was chosen for this mission. It is obvious why Hugh Derry is there, as it is mentioned by Dr. Jordan that he is the only biologist on board capable of interacting with Calvin. As for everyone else, their purposes lack focus. Dr. Jordan is, well, a doctor, but he fails to notice his own failing health (he has been in space the longest) and also claims to be a pilot without doing much piloting. In addition to this, Rory Adams and Sho Murakami lack titles entirely. That does not mean they do not contribute to the story, as they both do to different lengths. I just see a problem with this lack of characterization and feel it is a basic element that should have been identified. Aside from this I cannot see anything else wrong with the movie. It would have had more upside had practical effects been used for the creature scenes, but it did not lose any points for that. In all honesty I feel like this flick really could not have been any better. It isn’t a perfect film, but considering the situation, the setting, and its story template we have seen many times prior, it doesn’t offer anything new to the genre. What it does offer is a well-executed film where many with the same template from days passed, like Apollo 18 and The Last Days On Mars, have failed miserably. Top things off, with a highly enjoyable climax I feel Life is probably my favorite horror film of 2017 so far. It isn’t the best, which goes to Get Out, but as a fan of creature features and sci-fi horror I would surely watch this one again.
Overall, Life is a great horror film with a space setting sure to please fans of sci-fi horror / alien films. It excels where it needs to and its faults are forgivable, making this a film I suggest all fans of creature features check out. Trust me, you’ll at least enjoy the kills and the climax.