“This isn’t your buddy.“
Nutshell: Alien meets Gravity in a well thought out, well acted genre film that hits all the right buttons. While I hated the all-but-boilerplate-in-this-genre ending, there’s no denying it’s not necessarily a bad way to send off a creepy-good, terrifying thrill ride. Grade: A-
Story: Hey – the soil samples from Mars have finally come to the space station! I’m sure this one-celled organism will be the cure for everything, and everybody’s BFF. Because E.T. was awesome y’all! Hey, why is it holding my hand…so…tightly? OW DAMMIT DAMMIT GET IT OFF!
Genre I’d put it in: Alien Knockoffs That Nail It
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: While it harks back to many sci-fi horror tales, it’s wholly original.
Gotta say: There are times when I battle myself. Y’all know the problems I have with endings that don’t track with the rest of the story, and/or that needlessly throw stuff out there. But is that because I’m a big ol’ baby who wants what she wants when she wants it, or because it’s actually a flaw in the story? This time – THIS TIME ONLY – I’ma side with the “I’m being a big baby about this”. Because Life is an incredibly paced, well written, and perfectly executed horror story. And in space, nobody can hear me whine. So I’ll whine to you below. But first? All the good things!
Claustrophobic. Intense. And downright terrifying in parts. Yeah, while I wondered if Life would be decent beyond its star power and Grade-A special effects, I breathed a sigh of relief once things started unspooling. Life delivers the spooky goods, and for that I applaud the hell out of it. It’s as if Alien, Gravity, and Species got together for a nasty little thang. Throw in a touch of Event Horizon while you’re at it. And it works. Dammit, it works.
The deaths here mean something. You’ll actually give a shit when shit goes down. The first one is downright horrifying in it’s in-your-face literal breakdown. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool, Zombieland) do an amazing job with the story, getting me invested from the get-go. I loved every bit of their plotline, including nice touches like letting us know where the astronauts were from by simply putting their nation’s flag patches on each character’s suit. Nothing further required; onto the story.
Director Daniel Espinosa uses that screenplay, and dials it up to 11 with pitch-perfect editing and shots that really sunk me into the story. (Sunk me into? Fine. Let’s go with that. I’m sky-high on kidney infection antibiotics so I’m on a roll y’all.) Add the beautiful creature FX and terrific sound editing, and Life is truly a wonder to behold.
But it wouldn’t mean squat if the actors weren’t invested. And they are. Ryan Reynolds does do his jokey Deadpool-esque riff here, but as with Wade, there’s a humanity and depth of emotion that permeates the character. Hiroyki Sanada (Extant) is moving as a proud new daddy who’s also an engineering badass. Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Olga Dinovichnaya also deliver powerful performances that really hit me in the feels. Seriously; thie cast brings their A-Game, and with this stellar cast, that’s really saying something. But it’s Ariyon Bakare as scientist Hugh Derry – you know, the guy that gets clung to in the trailer – who really grabbed my heart. Derry is a serious scientist who truly gets invested in his research. But he’s no dummy, and when things go south his horror and awe is palpable. Plus, his character is disabled but the movie plays that as just something that has to be dealt with, just like every other health issue that comes to bear with all astronauts during long-term space travel.
#Protip: This will be the second time Hiroyuki Sanada plays an astronaut. He also played one in Sunshine.
And so here’s a bit of my rant, but mind you; Here Be A Spoiler.
Okay, so here’s the thing; I hate “BUT THEN” endings. Especially when the film could have been beautifully wrapped up (or better still, when the film could have allowed viewers to write their own ending) about five to ten minutes prior. However, that said? If you don’t mind those types of endings, and can live with walking away from a wholly cathartic experience without getting to breathe that sigh of relief or feeling of satisfaction? You’ll be groovy with how things wrap up here. I’m just saying that a touch of judicious editing could have made the world of difference to me, and made Life quite possibly the most perfect sci-fi horror film since Alien. But for now, it’s simply an excellent story with a bit of wobble on re-entry.