"Life" does everything you want a space movie to do and for the most part is smart as hell... except when a scientist briefly tickle taunts an alien.
A group of scientists on the international space station are charged with the task of examining evidence of intergalactic life beyond Earth. The small organism, given the name "Calvin," by winners of a school competition, is discovered on Mars. The potential for danger builds a quarantine protocol to ensure that the organism cannot reach Earth; the lives of the many outweigh those of the few international astronauts.
"Life" continually expresses layers of protection for this experimentation with an alien organism and eventually those layers don't shield the crew, they imprison them. Espinosa and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey have gone to great pains to create the zero gravity environments. In an interview with Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal for Collider.com, Steve 'Frosty' Weintraub probed about the practical feat of the characters' weightlessness. Amongst a barrage of tomfoolery, Reynolds and Gyllenhaal reveal that teams of stunt advisers and riggers manoeuvred the cast on wires to choreograph the zero gravity ballet as the characters navigate the segments of the steel corridors and portals of the ISS.
Editors Mary Jo Markey and Frances Parker, elicit the feeling of weightlessness seamlessly. The camera mimics debris in the early parts of the film. As their life form starts tormenting the characters, they push off the sides of the station like kids playing 'Marco Polo' in a pool. 'Calvin' the part octopus; part flower; all-consuming entity sees, feels and feeds in a singular motion. The emotionlessness of its impulse to destroy the beings that threaten it make it all the more terrifying.
Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick,the dynamic duo behind "Zombieland" and juggernaut "Deadpool," deliver a much more restrained and intense thriller than you'd perhaps expect. Its a sincere scenario about conserving human life faced with a manifestation of Darwinian evolution. While the focus is almost squarely on the crew and the station, there's a brief moment where they flash back to an Earth excited and united in space exploration and scientific pursuits. It's hard to decide what's more far-fetched in the film, the aliens or an America thrilled with science. It's nice to see this scenario presented right now and with such close proximity to Earth.
There's a great sense of rationality and intelligence amongst the characters. Ariyon Bakare's Hugh Derry the English biologist is the exception, taking responsibility for the organism that he's been entrusted to revive until its survival instinct sees the other occupants as a threat.
Rebecca Ferguson is the doctor whose bedside manner is her gateway into the crew. Ryan Reynolds' Roy Adams is the member of the ensemble designed to bring out the silliness and humanity in this stuffy group of scientists. Reese and Wernick clearly enjoy writing for Reynolds. Jake Gyllenhaal's David Jordan is the total foil to Adams. He's an astronaut willing to let his body decay rather than be back on earth.
Hiroyuki Sanada (the Tom Cruise of Japan), has been waiting since Danny Boyle's "Sunshine" for his nextspectacular death in an ensemble space movie. Olga Dihovichnaya's Kat is the Captain, and is one of the first to attempt to stand between her crew and the danger of this Martian.
After reading several reviews of "Life," it felt as if the overwhelming theme was that the critics had seen it all before and that the film's influences, which director Daniel Espinosa proudly admits, are being tiredly replicated. Espinosa's first Hollywood outing, is in fact the South African set "Safe House" starring Reynolds and Denzel Washington and suffered the same accusation, in fact I said that it looked like a Tony Scott action film in cast and in name and formally was "clearly influenced by Tony Scott's ... jagged cutting between sequences and multiple fluid cameras that flow between the different character interactions." "Safe House" is also an entertaining spy thriller, that is reaching for the greatness of those great films that inspired it; such is "Life."
The final moments of "Life" are daring, bleak and possibly the most terrifying of the film. In space, no one can hear you scream, except the audience.
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.