David Bowie – or more precisely, one of his most famous musical questions -proves to be an inspiration for Daniel Espinosa’s taut, shlocky horror-space flick, Life.
High above the Earth in the International Space Station a motley crew is assembled, waiting to take on board a soil sample from Mars for analysis to see if anything existed.
But when the sample they bring on board does yield some form of life, it soon turns deadly – threatening to kill the six crew on board… and threaten the future of life on Earth.
The chamber piece Life may be a spiritual successor to Ridley Scott’s Alien and many a Doctor Who episode where something lurks within a base, but Espinosa’s horror-cum-sci-fi cliche piece is startlingly effective in its execution, and intense in some of its scenes.
Granted, the space staff on board are briefly sketched at best; Ryan Reynolds reprises a bit of wise-cracking edge from Deadpool as the engineer of the piece, Rebecca Ferguson’s gruff, starched commander is more about the protocols and firewalls than the fuzzies, and Hiroyuki Sanada’s pilot is given a newborn baby on Earth to raise his emotional stakes.
Perhaps more interesting is Jake Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan, a medic who’s been in space for 473 days and prefers the hum of the spaceship to the evils that men do on the ground. He’s afforded the deepest degree of character as the film progresses, but it’s slim pickings all around.
Which is potentially no bad thing for Life.
This is not a film that wants to philosophise or put a lot of scientific debate or discussion. It’s more interested in firing abject terror through an overly bombastic soundtrack and series of relatively taut set-pieces.
It helps that the creature, named Calvin by a lucky kid that wins a competition on Earth, starts off like a gelatinous star-fish before evolving into some kind of floating turtle-snake hybrid. It’s a fairly innocuous but fatal critter, not destined for horror infamy like the Xenopmorph, and it works its terror well as the film continues.
The dialogue in part is cliche as well -from lines like “I’ve got a good feeling about this” and “there’s zero precedence for this!” that are ripped straight from Horror Movie Writing 101, to Re-Animator, this is a film that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve.
As the escalating schlock of the situation sets in and the horror movie trappings emerge, Espinosa keeps the film rattling along at quite a pace and never really stops to let it breathe. The result is tremendous, a terror-filled ride that’s worth taking in the fashion in which it was intended.
From its opening shot of a blip hurtling across the stars to its shots high above the Earth and within the Space Station, the look and feel of Life is second-to-none. With its tight-frame shots of the crew within the ship and wide shots of life outside in the vastness of space, complete with an evocative orchestral score, Espinosa manages to convey a sense of the infinite with the intimate in this claustrophobic thriller.
And there’s a certain beauty in one of the crew being killed, hauled into a Messianic pose with blood globules floating in the zero gravity room around them – this is a film that gets the look and feel right, even if it does feel like something we’ve witnessed before.
While the end feels unnecessarily over-the-top, with a eureka moment coming a little too conveniently into proceedings, Espinosa and the cast are fully committed to the meshing of the horror and space genres here.
Make no mistake, Life is an unashamedly derivative, suspenseful schlockbuster that embraces its conventions with gusto. It’s also a slick popcorn ride too, succeeding despite its lack of rounder human edges that kept the likes of Gravity and Alien afloat in the cold dark reaches of space.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Running time: 103 minutes
* This review first appeared at Darren’s World of Entertainment