Daniel Espinosa’s latest endeavour, the sci-fi blockbuster Life, is heavily inspired by the likes of Alien and Gravity, and while not imitative, it does make for a film that feels somewhat hackneyed in its execution, lacking in originality. It’s a shame this be the case, for the screenplay comes from Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and yet comes devoid of that same charm and comedic tendencies that illuminated their preceding venture, as a film somehow lacking in adventure.
The premise is gloriously simple; a small collective of astronauts, featuring the likes of David (Jake Gyllenhaal), Roy (Ryan Reynolds) an Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) have managed to discover a very small sample from Mars, which they believe could finally provide evidence of extraterrestrial life away from Earth. The most specialised in this department is Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) who vies tirelessly to awake this minuscule, single-celled organism, before alerting people back home of their remarkable discovery. So when the moment occurs it seems a celebration is in order, though as they strive to find out more about this rapidly growing creature, nothing can prepare them for the sheer intelligence and power this extraterrestrial being carries.
The set-up to this film is essential and perfectly judged by Espinosa, as it’s steeped in realism, feeling, dare I say, somewhat plausible. Given the nature of this genre, a suspension of disbelief is imperative and that is made so much easier when we can adhere to the premise, as, and much like Arrival, we play on human themes, and manage to avoid overstatement, instead vying for a more authentic approach. It’s not one that lasts very long however, eventually taking on the form of a generic survival flick. Thankfully the elusive antagonist allows for this picture to remain compelling, as similarly to Alien, we don’t understand this creature, we have no barometer to judge what they feel, what they’re capable of, nor how callous or compassionate they may be. The horror elements that derive from this are enriched also by the claustrophobia, as we so rarely deviate away from this single setting, of a vessel alone in orbit, adding a sense of vulnerability that derives from their isolation.
Life is effectively a B-movie dressed up as something more, following a formulaic narrative, and yet is one elevated by the stellar cast and big budget. While you might imagine that to be a positive, instead it leaves this film tonally frustrating, as in some ways it may have worked better embracing such an approach and hoping for cult status, ramping up the absurdity and comic relief in the process. In other words, in a bid to be a better movie, this film may have benefited from being ever so slightly worse.
Life is released on March 24th