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‘Life’ (review)

Produced by David Ellison, Dana Goldberg,
Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson,
Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada,
Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

 

With the upcoming release of Ridley Scott’s new film in the Alien franchise, it is unsurprising to see Sony and Columbia Pictures release their bid for the year’s sci-fi thrillers.

What is surprising is how much I enjoyed it.

It has been a long time since I have watched a thriller where I haven’t had the urge to yell at the screen for the characters for doing truly stupid things.

Set on an international space station, Life start out with all of the standard tropes of an “Alien” type film.

A small group of scientist and astronauts, long away from Earth, long to complete their final mission, and go home to Fame and Glory; all in the name of science and space exploration.  Olga Dihovichnaya and Rebecca Ferguson are the by the book authoritative women, commander and safety officer,  respected by all the crew.  Hiroyuki Sanada is your family man with a wife and newborn he has never seen in real life. Ariyon Bakare is your lead scientist who is driven by his love/obsession for discovery.  Jake Gyllenhaal fills out the role of the recluse doctor who wants to be away from humans as much as possible after war-time trauma.  Ryan Reynold is his own trope as the smart aleck, blue-collar-roots engineer, who wisecracks and acts as the one rash individual who is acts more on instinct than logic.

The bones of the story is by the numbers. Scientists discover lifeform, lifeform becomes antagonistic, crew fights for their lives, and possibly all life as we know it. Yes, it has been done before.  However, it is the way it is told that is refreshing.

The filmmaking is lean. At a fast paced 1 hour 40 minutes, Life does not waste a lot of time getting to the action, yet the movie never feels rushed.  Characters are developed, but not lingered on.  Enough bread crumbs are left to get to know the crew without having to be spoon fed a detailed background of each character.

Each of the fictional scientist actually act like scientists.  They follow procedure, make rational decisions, and it is only through human error that things go awry.  This is an important detail for me, since I spent most of Prometheus wondering why their scientist did things the way they did.  For their actions, they deserved to be alien food, but I digress). The director Daniel Espinosa relies less on jump scares (which are the easy way out in a thriller) and more on building the unease through the actors reactions in a scene to make you feel unsettled.

The alien itself is a nice divergence from the typical design.  Instead of the standard dark colors, armour plating, and rows of teeth (or mouths), Life’s alien is smooth lines and light colors, it’s movements swift and graceful, like and underwater sea creature.  These qualities are disarming, making the later violence seem more menacing.

I saw a twist coming at the end, but not the one that was given until it was almost revealed.  It gives the film a slight different tone than the one that Espinosa and the writers had been building.  I almost wonder if there was a change at the last minute to satisfy a producer or studio executive.  Or if it was a nod to sci-fi classics like The Thing or Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

If you are new to the genre, it’s a solid space thriller.  For the sci-fi connoisseur, it won’t hold the same kind of surprise that a new viewer will experience, but it is fun to see the influences and how the are played with and presented for a new generation.

 

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