Yeah, yeah, we’ll talk about kill counts and visual effects and all that requisite genre titillation. In a minute.
But first, a word on foolish scientists in creature features like Life. So you’ve found the existence of life from other worlds, and are about to make first contact. Awesome. But have any of the scientists ever seen a science fiction film about aliens before? The crew’s mechanic, Rory (Ryan Reynolds), makes a joke about Re-Animator at one point. It’s safe to assume these people know that the ratio for malevolent to benevolent aliens in these scenarios is roughly 60-40. So maybe don’t go poking a new organism with a taser. In fact, keep your firewall as huge as possible – perhaps robotic arms are in order, in a vault. Or perhaps a little roving cart with lots of rope, as in Stargate. Even if you’re in the vacuum of space, locking oneself in a rickety room with the unknown seems insane. And please, at the first sign of trouble, just cut and run. If Rory likes scary movies, did he learn nothing from the attractive but idiotic explorers of Prometheus?
Life is like a box of mediocrity. You more-or-less know exactly what you’re gonna get. But for what it’s worth, Daniel Espinosa’s space shocker, while totally born from the same stars as many other films, still lands about half the time. Oh sure, Life’s crew is full of morons, and the plot has its share of black holes. But Life also has a few scares to burn. Some sets to impress. And some ideas – incomplete as they are – that intrigue nevertheless. In the kindest sense, this is a slick episode of The Outer Limits, ready to provoke the unknown.
The International Space Station (ISS), the actual low-orbit lab, research facility, and factory, goes into overtime when a probe from Mars makes its way to the ISS with samples. A crew of six is tasked with studying what’s returned from the red planet. Within the dirt is a preserved single-cell organism. Now, the reason why that wouldn’t be enough to encourage caution on the crew’s part is unclear. (Oh. Right. The necessities of this kind of film.)
So who are the unlucky space saps that get to wake up the beast? There’s a CDC rep, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), with concealed motives and protocols for handling the situation. Jake Gyllenhaal is Dr. Dave Jordan, a gaunt military veteran about to break the record for most days in space; he doesn’t like Earth and its inhabitants anymore. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is the scientist tasked with personally handling the organism, with an uncomfortable fixation on the discovery’s survival. Add the quipping Rory (Reynolds through and through), new father and communications officer Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada), and the stoic captain Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and you have a full group of multi-national fish in a barrel. Some characters feel more clichéd than others, but at least they resemble people, with stories and motivations, possessing the oft-absent quality of characterization in a horror film.
Original posted March 23, 2017, on Consequence of Sound.