As painfully derivative and schlocky as Life is…it is still a well executed entry into an oft neglected subgenre.
The crew aboard the International Space Station in orbit around Earth are about to test soil samples recently taken from Mars by a probe. During one of the experiments, a single cell organism is found within the soil and thanks to the efforts of Biologist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) it is revived from dormancy. The initial success of proving extraterrestrial life creates a news frenzy on Earth, and thanks to some students the life form is given the name Kelvin. Meanwhile on the ISS Medical Officer David (Jake Gyllenhaal) is breaking the record for continuous days in space to the detriment of his health, Systems Engineer Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada) watches his wife give birth via tablet, and Rory (Ryan Reynolds) is struggling to fix the shower. However the good times do not last as the organism begins to grow at an exponential rate, alarming Quarantine Officer Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) who needs to ensure all possible firewalls are in place to prevent any sort of infection or attack. After Kelvin mangles Hugh’s hands during a test the crew try to immediately kill the organism before it can inflict further harm. Unbeknown to the rest of the crew this organism is a lot smarter than they think, and it begins threatens the livelihood of the crew on board the ISS as itself tries to survive.
Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) does a good job with a genre he hasn’t dipped his toes into before, and the performances of the cast are all fine. But you wouldn’t expect much less from three of Hollywood’s ever popular stars in Gyllenhaal, Ferguson, and Reynolds. Also, after Sunshine poor Hiroyuki Sanada just can’t seem to catch a break in the science fiction genre, seemingly doomed to play auxiliary characters that struggle to stay alive longer than the headlining cast. Kelvin, the increasingly dangerous life form that threatens the crew is a well designed alien, but often reminds us the authenticity that CGI can lack when compared with expertly crafted SFX, as well as on screen presence.
The concept of in demand screenwriting duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s Life hardly breaks ground in originality with a story that is every shade of 1979s Alien. Humans being hunted down relentlessly by an alien life form is of course not necessarily original material in the first instance, but the confined setting and one by one dispatching of the crew is too familiar to the groundbreaking 1979 science fiction horror, that intentional or not, feels like a lesser imitation. That being said as painfully derivative and schlocky as Life is of its genre buddies, it is still a well executed entry into what is an oft neglected subgenre with enough intrigue to see how it all plays out. This is however only applicable to the first viewing, because afterwards you’ll realise it was just as predictable as you expected.