Director: Daniel Espinosa
Screenwriters: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Runtime: 104 mins
Australian release date: 23 March 2017
Previewed at: Hoyts Cinema, Broadway, Sydney on 22 March 2017
From early in the film, as Seamus McGarvey’s eerie cinematography follows Ryan Reynolds floating outside the International Space Station directing a robotic arm to capture a passing probe carrying samples from Mars, you can feel the horror waiting to erupt in Life. “Yes,” the six crew members cry as he succeeds in catching it, but “nooo” you inwardly shout because you just know the probe is going to bring bad news to the ISS and its inhabitants… very bad news. The probe is carrying an inert single-cell extraterrestrial which is quickly placed in quarantine. This example of life beyond earth is given a name, Calvin, by a kid on earth whose school won a competition to name the life-form. Altering the atmosphere in which Calvin is kept brings it back to life and it soon starts to replicate its cells, which simultaneously hold the attributes of both muscle and brain, a description that’s enough to make the hairs rise on the back of your neck.
The multinational crew, headed by Russian team leader Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), includes a pair of Americans, ex-military guy David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), who prefers life in space compared to the ‘evil’ back on earth, and technician Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the joker in the pack, a couple of Brits, Hugh Derry (Anyon Bakare), a paraplegic scientist, and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), the team doctor, and from Japan Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), whose wife gives birth back on earth while he’s in space. As the extraterrestrial organism develops it becomes a force to be reckoned with and, of course, one by one the astronauts begin to be eliminated. Sound familiar?
The action takes place mostly in the interior of the spacecraft and the weightlessness on show as the crew go about their work and attempt to escape from Calvin is astounding, a credit to the Visual Effects team. A resounding soundtrack by John Ekstrand adds to the tension and as the creature grows, so does the threat implied by the score. Rhett Reese’s and Paul Wernick’s script has been criticised in some quarters as being too derivative of Ridley Scott’s Alien but, hey, this story has been around since the birth of cinema. How many films have been made wherein a group of people trapped in a contained environment (a hurtling train, a haunted house, an abandoned castle, et al) start getting picked off one by one? The list is very, very long. Lovers of sci-fi shouldn’t be disappointed by Life even if it isn’t entirely original; it still manages to have a nasty sting in its tale.