It’s impossible to talk about Daniel Espinosa’s sci-fi horror film Life without mentioning the films before that clearly draw inspiration from it. It’s a stronger-than-you’d-think cocktail, comprised of one-part Gravity, two-parts Alien, with a generous side of Hollywood cheese. More seasoned tastebuds might simply call the drink “The Blob In Space”. Sony Pictures, a studio not known for its quality output as of late, is ultimately your bartender for the evening, but the results may surprise you. Despite the rigorous studio system and boring marketing campaign and much like the alien creature star, Life manages to be a film with more thrills and character than what can be seen at first glance.
Life, only the latest in a seemingly never-ending barrage of hashtag-able generic titles, tells the story of a crew aboard the International Space Station analyzing what appears to be the first sign of cellular life on Mars. A couple poor decisions later, and the team is trapped aboard the space station with a vicious, rapidly growing space alien.
Jake Gyllenhaal turns in an understated performance as Dr. David Jordan, an astronaut who has spent way too much time in space, and wants to stay there. Rebecca Ferguson turns in an even more understated (some would argue nonexistent) performance as Dr. Miranda North, and their romance is surprisingly one of only a few things in this film that falls flat. Despite the comfortable runtime and first act, there was little time devoted to justifying their relationship beyond the fact that they’re a couple pretty people in space. Nevertheless, it doesn’t detract from the bulk of the film, but does make the more intimate scenes that follow less impactful.
Surprisingly, the strongest feature of this film is the horror element and death scenes. Obviously I won’t go into great detail, but the the sense of dread and Hitchcockian building blocks that are smartly in play during the horror scenes really hit home. They’re terrifying and dark and despite their heavy CGI lean, never went beyond belief.
What’s left here is a competently made, well-acted sci-fi horror film that doesn’t quite bring anything new to the table, but doesn’t embarrass anyone involved either. There is an indie feel to the film in the vein of Europa Report or Moon, and a realism that owes a lot of credit to the well-researched production designer (shout out to Nigel Phelps). Life is a sci-fi horror film that doesn’t compromise either genre to tell a big-budget studio story. It may not have much legs in theaters but those who discover this film as time goes on will find themselves more surprised than disappointed.