‘Life’ highlights the dread of space

Movie competently explores familiar genre

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Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the new sci-fi thriller, “Life,” as Dr. David Jordan. Jordan attempts to lure the antagonistic creature — nicknamed Calvin — into a trap.
Synopsis

A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Review

Is there life beyond Earth? It’s an intriguing concept that can make for some potentially interesting narratives. While films like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” have a more hopeful approach to the concept, there are films like John Carpenter’s “The Thing” that tell us to be cautious of the unknown. The new sci-fi thriller “Life” follows in the footsteps of the cautionary approach.

“Life” is a film that takes obvious inspiration from other films, such as the basic premise of “Alien” and visual similarities to “Gravity.” Despite these callbacks, director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House”) crafted a competently made film with good moments of suspense.

Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) watches with concern as Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) experiments on the newly discovered alien life, nicknamed Calvin, in the new sci-fi thriller, “Life.”

Espinosa and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey give the film a great visual flair. “Life” opens with a long single tracking shot of the interior of the International Space Station establishing the claustrophobic setting of the film, as well as the characters. Espinosa and McGarvey did a great job at capturing the bleak and unforgiving space. They even use zero gravity to create unease and the blue glow of Earth to highlight the isolation of the environment.

The film, like “Alien,” does not have an obvious protagonist, but rather the crew of the ISS as a whole. Thanks to the writing of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (“Deadpool”), each character is given enough depth and backstory to make them three-dimensional. So when the body count starts to add up, you actually feel something for the characters.

Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Ryan Reynolds stars in “Life” as Rory Adams, the mechanic aboard the International Space Station. Adams adjusts his gloves as he prepares to go repair some lab equipment in the new sci-fi thriller, “Life.”

When the creature — nicknamed Calvin — escapes and wreaks havoc in the ISS, it’s surprisingly creepy. Calvin starts off as a single-celled organism and quickly grows into a deadly force of nature. It proves to be a quick problem-solver and an efficient killer. Calvin kills its victims and leaves their lifeless bodies to eerily float in zero gravity in a haunting visual.

The third act doesn’t have quite the same level of suspense as characters start making dumb decisions and the film starts to repeat its chase scenes. Part of why it doesn’t work is due to Calvin’s rapid growth rate. Calvin was much more scary as a smaller creature that could pop out anywhere at any time. However, the ending could redeem most of the complaints for some viewers.

Unfortunately, the film fell victim to the marketing team spoiling too much of the film in the trailers. Thus, a lot of the suspense will be absent. So if you can, go into this film as blind as possible.

“Life” is a great modern example of sci-fi thrillers that actually succeeded in creating suspense and dread. It’s a shame that it didn’t get much attention at the box office, as sitting in a dark theater really adds to the suspense that the film crafted. Perhaps the film will find new life as a rental.