Life (2017)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/10/17 05:55:46
(Worth A Look)
In an earlier decade, "Life" would have a title that either ended with an exclamation point or would look perfectly normal if one were added, but that doesn’t happen today, because even if a movie studio willingly spends tens of millions of dollars on a blood-soaked script about alien stem cells reviving and attacking a space station crew, they wouldn’t want people to think it’s pulpy silliness. So, without actually lying or misrepresenting the film, they try and make it look like "Arrival", when it’s actually more like "The Thing from Another World!"Having the sort of resources that make a studio want to make their movie seems classy means that it can be set on the International Space Station, where commander Ekaterina Golokina (Olga Dihovichnaya), systems specialist Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), doctor David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), and technician Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) are joined by Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), the exobiologist who will be searching samples taken from an unmanned mission to Mars for signs of life, and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), who is tasked with enforcing the quarantine. The trouble is, the isolation plans were built around the assumption that they’d be dealing with the Martian equivalent of bacteria, not a colony organism that can rebuild itself from a single cell given adequate nutrition.
Director Daniel Espinosa stumbles a bit toward the beginning, although he and writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick tend to stumble in the right direction: For later bits to work, the world needs to be a little more open before it contracts to just the station; astronauts can be so capable and professional as to seem dry before things get messed up; and starting off with enough careful scientific investigation that the characters don’t seem like idiots might bore the audience, so you need an early action sequence. Messing up any of that stuff wouldn’t necessarily hurt the part of the movie one pays money to see, but it would be nice if everything seemed locked in from the start. That’s not really the case; the opening sequence with a too-hyper Rory having to operate an armature from outside the station for no good reason is one of a number of early bits that try too hard, as the most obvious example.
But then the main action starts, and as soon as Espinosa and team can get started on the main event, it’s actually pretty darn exciting. Life may follow the monster-in-the-isolated-lab outline pretty faithfully, but the ISS is a heck of an isolated lab, one that allows everyone involved to come up with a new way of staging a familiar scene, although the filmmakers are savvy enough to know that the audience won’t quite let them get away with just anything. They know how to use free fall to good effect, whether it be having fleeing characters shoot through a scene like bullet - a fair compromise for being in a space so small that a long chase isn’t possible - or having blood hang in the air after a kill. The filmmakers also come up with a couple of great takes on leaving the worst to one’s imagination, finding neat ways of letting the audience fill in the worst while not feeling like the movie is hiding anything.
The cast is a nice ensemble, with everybody settling in nicely once they can show their characters’ personalities based upon action rather than the getting-to-know-you bits. It’s the sort of movie where singling anybody out as particularly good might hint at who gets the most screen time, but it’s worth noting that the big stars, relative unknowns, and character actors play nice together, rather than signalling who is important in a scene. Besides, the real star of the movie is CGI creation “Calvin”; Espinosa and the VFX/animation teams approach the creature as more a dangerous animal than something explicitly malicious, hinting at panic, desperation, and personality (watch how it seems to accusingly say “mine!” upon finding an oxygen source) without actually making it a sentient villain.The ending has a bit of “one thing too much” going on, but overall, I found myself kind of pleasantly surprised that someone would make a horror movie this elaborate. It doesn't seem like very long ago that whoever picked up this script would be finding a many ways as possible to get the characters out of free fall or make the monster something that could be played by a guy in a suit. Maybe it's not entirely worth all that effort, but the result is fun for those who like that sort of thing.
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