Movie Review: Life

My Rating:
2.0 rating

(minor spoilers)

Who doesn’t love a good horror story in space? Brave and attractive people stuck in tight quarters with a hostile alien, without gravity, surrounded by the deadly vacuum where no one can hear you scream? Sign me up.

Ryan Reynolds easily steals the first few scenes as the cocky and humorous space cowboy, Rory. Jake Gyllenhaal joins him as David Jordan. Ariyon Bakare plays what is easily the most interesting character on the ship, Doctor Hugh Derry, the scientist in charge of studying the newly discovered life form.

Olga Dihovichnaya plays Kat, the leader of the mission onboard the International Space Station orbiting Earth. Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda and Hiroyuki Sanada playing Sho, round out the crew.

The first act of the movie contains some epic cinematography, including one scene of Earth from space that almost brought tears to my eyes. Many of the shots are from strange angles, giving the viewer the impression that they are floating weightless with the crew. It can be disorienting so you may want to have some Dramamine on hand.

I won’t spoil any key elements of the story but honestly? Anyone who has seen Alien will not be surprised by how it develops. Its plot may be unoriginal, but “Life” does manage to deliver a few great moments of genuine horror. The first time the alien shows the depth of its intelligence is startling, to say the least.

Creature design was superb although I wish they had taken it a few steps further. As the story unfolds, the plant-like alien grows and adapts to its environment, molding limbs and something like a face. Unfortunately, its evolution stagnates in the last third of the movie. What starts as a fresh take on body forms is reduced to “space squid” by the end.

One of my biggest problems with this film is characterization. With the notable exception of Doctor Hugh (the scientist working with the alien), it’s unclear what each crewmember’s role actually is on the space station beside floating around waiting to be killed. Rebecca Ferguson’s character Miranda talks continuously about how firewalls are her responsibility as quarantine officer, but she is the one providing physical therapy to one of the crew. Meanwhile, Gyllenhaal is supposedly the ship’s doctor but later claims to be the pilot (who hasn’t done anything remotely piloty up to that point, or doctor like for that matter).

I was equally perplexed by Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the character. At times he seems simple, at other times strangely intense, sort of like someone’s creepy bipolar uncle.

The confusion doesn’t end there. As the diminishing crew makes repeated attempts to rid themselves of their alien passenger various parts of the ship begin to fail (of course) and they run out of fuel (naturally) so they have to result to extreme (but not particularly creative) measures. In one scene I think what is happening is that an escape pod is coming loose. A crewmember and the alien are struggling against the pull of the vacuum. Space wins and both are sucked out. It looks like the escape pod floats away.

At this point, I was thinking, ‘Yay! The alien is gone! I wonder what marvelous twist they have in store for the rest of the movie? Maybe they can save the plot after all!’ Nope.

The creature must have somehow managed to survive, hang on, and find another point of entry. The rest of the crew did not seem either upset or elated so I wasn’t sure what exactly I was supposed to be feeling at this point. The pace vacillates between long drawn-out moments of reflection and warp speed, anxiety-ridden races to defeat the big bad.

This leads me to the extremely predictable ending. I won’t bore you with the boring details but trust me, you won’t be surprised.

By the end of “Life” I was ready to go home. And maybe watch Alien on Netflix.


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