by Toby Woollaston
The writing duo of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have recently penned successful action/comedies (Deadpool, Zombieland), but Life presents their first effort at a sci-fi thriller. It seems to be a polarising genre — some are good (Event Horizon, Sunshine, Alien), some are bad (Species, Mission to Mars, Europa Report). However, Life is unique in that it is decidedly, well … ordinary. Like its cast, my expectations for this film were floating in zero gravity when I entered the cinema. I felt like an American watching cricket waiting for the penny to drop. Yet, somehow Life never let a solid opinion settle, as I was met with equal measures of good and bad. So thumbs up, Life, for sitting on the fence. Not many sci-fi thrillers manage to do that.
The film is helmed by Daniel Espinosa. Who? Yes, he’s the director that bought you the wonderfully bland Child 44 and Safe House. I thought that perhaps the enigmatically superb Jake Gyllenhaal (pictured) might spark things to life, but unfortunately all six crew members (including Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds) have been severely underwritten, leaving the cast with little scope to work with.
The plot is a simple one. Set entirely on the International Space Station orbiting Earth, the crew receive (with a bit of difficulty) a soil sample from Mars in order for them to study it and search for signs of life. It’s not a spoiler to say that they discover an alien life form … and that professionals start making unprofessional decisions … and that people die. In a nutshell it is a contamination crisis of an alien predator, a la Alien (and a million other films since).
It’s also chamber-piece that owes a lot of its style to many that went before it. For example, the set pieces are mechanically perfect but also perfectly borrowed from the likes of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Not to take anything away from a film that takes good care of all it borrows, because Life is quite sumptuous to look at. But unlike its alien subject it doesn’t morph into something more original or more interesting; instead it appears satisfied to occupy its duplicated space. If you haven’t been privy to many of its pioneering predecessors then my suspicion is that you will enjoy Life. But for me, I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. It’s just an ok film that fell out of my brain soon after I left the theatre.
You can see the published review here.