This movie had a lot going for it, aside from its horrible name. The fact that I have to keep referencing it as the “new Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds movie” isn’t a good sign. Wasn’t Life a followup to Planet Earth or something? I swear, this title is overused for some reason but it’s incredibly boring. Was the movie itself able to conquer this initial stumble?
As our movie begins, the International Space Station orbiting Earth is waiting for a pod from Mars, which includes a soil sample that may include something alive. Our team finds this cellular organism, which slowly becomes predatory and they must find a way to kill it before it makes its way to Earth. Our crew includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya. These are basically the only people in the movie, aside from a few snippets in the film’s opening moments.
It’s directed by Daniel Espinosa, whose only other major release is the Ryan Reynolds/Denzel Washington flick Safe House.
This is a pretty stellar cast and they all give great performances. It’s nice to see relative unknowns, at least in English-speaking films, go toe-to-toe with heavy hitters like Gyllenhaal. If there was a weak link in a cast this small, that could’ve tanked the whole movie but luckily it’s all outstanding here. Gyllenhaal and Ferguson are really the standouts though, not surprisingly. Ferguson made an impression with her appearance in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation but this really cements that she’s going places.
This movie isn’t really a sci-fi adventure but it’s more of a straight-up thriller like Event Horizon or the original Alien. It’s terrifying at times, claustrophobic and intense. I was surprised at how gruesome it became, so make sure you’re mentally ready for some pretty grotesque sequences.
All in all, Life is entertaining and scary and full of great performances but…
What doesn’t work?
We’ve seen much better. Like… I have nothing against McDonalds but it’s hard to say that McDonalds is a great burger after you’ve had something much better. You can still enjoy it and have a great time with Life, but you’ll be thinking the entire time about how great Alien is. This movie is cursed because of the movies that have come before it. If you want intense outer-space chaos, look to Gravity. This movie tries to do a lot of familiar things but it doesn’t really exceed at any of them.
One of the biggest flaws is probably with this alien itself, that hasn’t been shown in promos or trailers or anything. It’s unique, sure, but it’s entirely digital and not always believable. Alien featured a practical model, so that when it killed someone, that creature was actually there. Here, it feels artificial and fake and lacks some of that punch that practical effects can deliver. And if the main threat in the movie doesn’t really feel like a threat… that’s a problem.
The ending of the film also feels disappointing, though I won’t spoil it. In an effort to try to be original, it actually falls into yet another cliche.
Life is fine, with a somewhat cliche story that’s been done better many times. Its strength is in its cast, giving incredible performances and ending up with characters that you actually end up caring about. That’s not enough to save this movie though. You won’t be disappointed with it, just temper your expectations and prepare for some intense sequences.