Director Daniel Espinosa brings extraterrestrial life on Mars to audiences in “Life,” in which a rapidly evolving life form that could lead to mass extinction on Earth threatens a crew aboard the International Space Station. With diverse characters played by an A-list cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, it is a must-see. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who recently worked on “Nocturnal Animals,” brings stunning zero-gravity images to the silver screen. However, once chaos is unleashed on the ISS, these images turn horrifically gory.
After the six-member crew receives samples from Mars, it is up to scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) to discover if any of the cells show signs of life. Once the single cell begins to move, the crew informs the base on Earth that there is indeed life beyond our atmosphere. The reactions down on Earth are appropriate. After the crew communicates its discovery, an elementary school wins the lottery to name the alien, calling it “Calvin.” The cell rapidly grows into an autonomous living thing that is “all muscle, all brain and all eye.” More powerful than any human being, the creature begins to grow just as rapidly as does the fear on board the ISS.
This film is not for the faint-hearted; there are scenes of twisting limbs and curdling blood that are surely shocking. The official trailer for the film starts with a voiceover of John F. Kennedy’s 1962 “moon” speech: “There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again.”
This initial monologue indicates that “Life” contains a deep intellectual message about mankind, questioning existence and the potential for extraterrestrial life to naturally select human beings out of the universal picture. However, the film serves more as a horror film full of jump scares and shock value that will make audiences cringe and continuously cover their eyes. Ultimately, the film’s potential subjects are thinned out by sensational sequences filled with vicious, stomach-turning props.
Outstanding performances from Gyllenhaal, Bakare, Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson, redeem the film by connecting the audience to the backstories of each crew member. Gyllenhaal plays Dr. David Jordan, the crew’s medic, who has been up in space for the longest among the group — almost a dangerous amount of time for any human being. However, he is not particularly eager to return to Earth any time soon. Bakare plays the crew’s scientist Hugh Derry, who is paraplegic down on Earth, but in zero-gravity space is able to fly with the same ease as any other astronaut. Reynolds stars as mission specialist Rory Adams, after reportedly turning down Gyllenhaal’s lead role due to a change in his schedule. Ferguson, as the level-headed quarantine officer, proves to be an audience favorite as she keeps the crew calm and controlled — that is, until things go south.
“Life” has blatant similarities to Ridley Scott’s 1979 science fiction horror film “Alien,” in which a highly aggressive extraterrestrial lifeform stalks and kills a crew on board a spaceship. The main distinction between the two is that “Alien” takes place 200 years in the future, whereas “Life” takes place in present day, making the affair all the more frightening.
While the plot is seemingly unoriginal, it had tremendous potential for a message linking current scientific strides to outer space and the human fear of unknown potential lifeforms. However, this momentum is lost in the inefficient script, dealing instead with more superficial subjects about extraterrestrial life. Despite this oversight, “Life” emerges as a successful science-horror film that is guaranteed to shock, frighten and entertain audiences.