I guess the studio figured they had better release LIFE, now since Ridley Scott’s eagerly anticipated Alien: Covenant is set for release on May 19 of this year. I mean, we would not want to confuse the two films, right? LIFE is basically a clone of the Alien films, but that does not mean it has to be bad? First off, Scott’s 1979 Alien is a classic. It still terrifies me to this day. Everything about the film is exemplary so for any film to mirror that one is going to have an uphill struggle. LIFE has some interesting elements and a few thrills, but it falls way short of being able to hang with Alien.
The film stars Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and newcomer Olga Dihovichnaya as a team of astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). They are finishing up their tour in outer space and one of the last requirements is to fix a satellite that has samples from Mars. One sample is on organism they reanimate only to find it is not in the best of moods. It is named Calvin by the school children of Earth after one of their schools, but Calvin is anything but warm and fuzzy. Intelligent, strong and particularly nasty Calvin proceeds to terrorize everyone on the ISS. Calvin is a formidable foe in a film like this because nothing seems to affect it.
The cast is excellent. Reynolds is his usual wise-cracking self. Rebecca Ferguson, who took everyone by storm with her terrific performance is the last Mission Impossible film with Tom Cruise, is the ship’s science and medical officer is decent. She was so good in MI:5 that she will be back for MI:6. In fact, it is not the acting of LIFE that bothered me, really. I especially liked Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as an astronaut who is a former Marine and has seen “the things people can do to one another” so he does not really want to go back to Earth. He is tired of people. He is about the only character that has any real depth. Basically, the characters are introduced to the audience just to let us know they will be summarily eliminated as the film progresses.
Which brings me to my problems with LIFE. It’s story is routine and it has a script to match. We are treated to scenes with dialogue that characters state “It is using the air ducts to travel throughout the station.” No, really!? You don’t say!? One of the characters watches his wife give birth on Earth, so we know he won’t be making the trip home. The main scientist has a disability which is exploited by Calvin to gross detail. The entire story and script is from the assembly line filmmaking school where you know what is going to happen and to whom it is going to happen.
This is not to say LIFE does not have other qualities I enjoyed. The look of LIFE is beautiful. All of the visuals and cinematography of this film are gorgeous to look at. There is a sheen of CGI which has enabled Hollywood to make anything look superbly real. As I stated, the acting is quite good and there are some very tense moments that are raw and graphic which helped the film. But director Daniel Espinosa (who directed Ryan Reynolds in Safehouse with Denzel Washington) seems to be hedging his bets here, opting for a rather routine creature feature with only about half of the fun. What is even more puzzling is the script written by the same two, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who scribed last year’s Deadpool with Reynolds, again. That film worked because of Reynolds and a script that was gutsy and pushed the limits of storytelling. LIFE is neither.
LIFE tries very hard to scare us and it did me on a couple of occasions, but it is playing it so safe that there is not much to hold onto. Jon Ekstrand’s score starts out soft and menacing but by film’s end becomes monotonous, redundant and grating. Overall, LIFE is an efficiently crafted, but ultimately unsatisfying with its material. The whole been-there-done-that theme of LIFE is what did it in for me. You could do worse than LIFE but as they say, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Ridley Scott and the Alien franchise should be very flattered, indeed.
LIFE – **3/4 out of 5
LIFE – Rated R for language, graphic violence and scenes of terror
LIFE – Run Time is 103 minutes
LIFE is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations.