“…Life is perhaps something of a homage to some of the truly great futuristic films of yesteryear.”
Wayward Wolf Film Review.
Watching this science-fiction horror got me thinking of the irony that amidst the infinite vastness of outer space, the actual ‘stage’ upon which the vast majority of apparently ‘realistic’ science fiction films are played out, is somewhat claustrophobically small and rather limited; a case in point being Daniel Espinosa’s, Life.
In order that the crew of an exploratory space mission might not suffocate to death, the action must either be contained within the sanctuary and metaphorical ‘four walls’ of their relatively minuscule space station, or should they venture out of these confines into outer space, they must again be contained, this time within life-preserving space suits, anchored firmly to the space station.
Containment is indeed the name of the game and thus the ability for Directors to demonstrate true originality considering the self-imposed man-made limitations of the known science-fiction world, can quite often be severely hampered. This results in scenarios and backdrops becoming all too frequently a little overly-familiar and maybe even reassuring to our eyes, no matter how many supposedly differing tales of missions blasting-off into the great unknown we are subjected to.
On the one hand, Life is a film that most definitely suffers an originality bypass, more than most, its subject matter revolving around content that’s quite clearly been begged, borrowed and stolen from any number of prior science fiction sources.
But on the other hand, it’s equally possible to accept the point of view that Life is perhaps something of a homage to some of the truly great futuristic films of yesteryear.
Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Gravity, Interstellar, they’re all, without question, key influences here in the Director’s thinking.
But is this necessarily a bad thing?
These films were all lauded for their particular plus points, be that the more gritty, industrial and organic feel – the actual rattling nuts and bolts of space travel – that was conjured up in Interstellar, the stunning cinematography and awe-inspiring heart and soul of Gravity, the use of visual tracking technology to create absolutely white-knuckle-esque suspense, in Aliens, or the sheer fear factor brought about through a combination of the unknown and ultimately the horror of knowing, in both Alien and The Thing.
To name but a few. The list could very easily go on.
In the case of Life, each of these elements are employed strategically and expertly – it has to be said – creating a thoroughly convincing yet very straight forward tale of the inevitable perils of poking about too much in space.
The crew of an international space station are part of a mission to intercept some sort of probe that has been collecting ‘samples’ from the surface of Mars. The crew are to then analyse these for any potential signs of life.
Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), is the scientist in charge of analysing and nurturing the single-celled life form that they successfully unearth from Mars’ dust samples.
Its rapid growth and unconventional, unpredictable demeanour soon becomes not only the subject of much fascination, but also of considerable concern for the crew. They are mindful that as ground-breaking as their discovery undoubtedly is, there are bucket loads of unknowns attached to this particular venture, and the mutually agreed upon, over-riding protocol is that no matter how unique and precious this organism’s growth and development may be, if things get out of hand, it cannot be allowed to affect life on planet earth.
Needless to say, when playing with fire, people get burnt. And so it proves to be.
So long as you can sufficiently disassociate this film from all of its more obvious influences and treat it as the nail-bitingly tense thriller that it certainly is, Life will, without question, be a most enjoyable 100 minutes of your time.
The cast is excellent and the characterisation, I am pleased to announce, is surprisingly downplayed when compared with the more exaggerated characterisation of some of the film’s science fiction forerunners. From the brash swagger of Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the sultry authority of team leader, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), to the quietly spoken David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) – whose influence on matters steadily grows as the team’s collective crisis deepens and they flap about with increasing desperation in their attempts to bring a halt to the inextirpable extraterrestrial’s progress.
As for ‘Calvin’ the alien being; he / she / it is deceivingly angelic in appearance. A sort of translucent orchid-like jellyfish creature. Convincing both as some sort of mythical spiritual being and as the relentless predator that it turns out to be.
Perhaps not so convincing however is Jon Ekstrand’s full and rather overblown soundtrack which is effective only sporadically, yet over-bearing and seemingly omni-present. The film at times struggles to breathe under the sheer weight of this excessive sonic onslaught.
Nonetheless, this is but a minor gripe, and is insufficient to detract from the positive impression and sentiment that the film successfully conveys, overall.
Thoroughly engaging to the point where I failed to second guess a fairly predictable yet highly effective twist near the film’s conclusion, Life is a delectable piece of fantasy that tips – in the most brazen of fashion – the visor of its space suit’s helmet in the general direction of the very best of classic cinematic science fiction.