Well I liked it. More than I expected to. Reading the pre-news about the latest sci-fi, Life didn’t offer up anything that made me think, ooh this will be different from the others that have come before it.
The synopsis: Astronauts (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds) aboard the International Space Station are on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As members of the crew conduct their research, the rapidly evolving life-form proves far more intelligent and terrifying than anyone could have imagined.
Pretty straight forward. American space crew go messing with what they shouldn’t. Basically. We’ve been shown this before, via the Alien franchise. Watching Life however, you’re not prepared for this neat sci-fi thriller.
Once we board the International Space Station we’re introduced to a diverse space crew, who banter and bicker bringing us into their world. Reynolds as Rory Adams the crew’s specialist engineer tones down his Deadpool cockiness, providing the requisite laughs. Gyllenhaal is typically brooding and angsty as Dr. David Jordan. He prefers isolation and being in space is perfect for him, if his crew would just leave him alone to brood. Rebecca Ferguson provides the female with authority role as Dr. Miranda North. Ariyon Bakare is Hugh Derry, a renowned microbiologist; with Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Kendo and lga Dihovichnaya as Katerina Golovkina making up the rest Space Station populace.
Because we know what’s inevitably going to happen, it’s just a matter of time waiting until when it happens. We trundle through the discovery of rock samples from Mars, the realisation there’s a living organism amongst the samples. The celebration back on Earth. The projected events that we’d engage in if actual life was openly revealed to exist in space. From cute school kids asking the crew cute questions via satelite, to a school winning a competition to name the living organism – they choose Calvin.
It’s at that moment, when organism thingy becomes Calvin, the anticipation builds. First of all, really? You’re gonna call it Calvin? The crew, especially microbiologist Hugh, get attached and excited as Calvin starts to grow, whilst we the audience are shaking our heads at their naiveté. A random accident causes Calvin to stop evolving and in response, Hugh decides to give it a little shock treatment… sigh.
What Life does really well, is build tension and scare the poop out of you. Even for those most cynical that they’ve seen all the Sci-Fi’s and all the Horrors; are great at plot predicting etc. would be hard pressed not to jump, scream and grab their chairs when it all kicks off, and not to be fully grossed out by the innovative way Calvin attacks ‘his’ prey.
Where Life fails, is that in 2017 we’re less forgiving of survival plans which go so glaringly wrong just because it helps the film along. There are definitely moments of why the hell would they do that? Wouldn’t it just be easier if? Oh Em Gee just close the door etc. etc. Which rather than in that fun pantomime way, those moments come across formulaic and with Life’s overall predictability it feels like they could have been a tad more clever with some of those key scenes. This is testament to the solid acting and excellent visuals though.
Speaking to Bakare, I let him know that it was a proud moment to see him on the big screen in a blockbuster Sci-Fi. His Hugh Derry, is believable and engaging. Hugh’s personal journey, lays credence to his connection and almost desperate need to have Calvin be a successful project. Another British Black talent on course to take America by storm.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Screenwriter(s): Rhett Reese | Paul Wernick
Cast: Ariyon Bakare, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal.
UK Release date: Friday 24th March 2017