Release date: 24th March 2017/Watch the trailer here
A large proportion of the marketing for Life has focused around a scene where International Space Station crew member Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is attempting to revive a dormant organism, found in a soil sample from Mars and believed to be the first proof of extraterrestrial life. The organism, nicknamed Calvin, latches itself tightly onto Hugh’s hand and things soon begin to go south, resulting in a wince-inducing moment where Hugh’s hand is crushed in excruciatingly painful detail. It was a smart marketing move to focus so heavily on this: the scene and the aftermath that follows is by far the high point of Life, and so it’s a shame that it happens within the first thirty minutes.
Hugh is joined aboard the ISS by five other scientists, doctors, and mechanics from around the world – Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), and Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya). While the creature design for Calvin – a life form that evolves and rapidly grows in size throughout the course of the film – may be creative, it’s one of the only parts of Life that feels truly original. Everything else – a claustrophobic monster movie set in space; all communications with Earth cut off – has been done countless times before, and often much better than this.
The one thing that Life does incredibly well, however, is its horror elements. It may borrow heavily from Alien, but it still finds innovative and unsettling ways in which to gruesomely kill off its characters, while exploring ideas such as what spurting blood might look like without gravity. This means that there are portions of Life – particularly the aforementioned scene involving poor Hugh and his hand – that feel genuinely terrifying and unnerving. Director Daniel Espinosa has proven to be masterful at creating tension and an oppressive atmosphere when he needs to, so it’s a pity that this tension doesn’t continue throughout the entire film.
Frustratingly, it doesn’t take long for Life to devolve into yet another generic humanity-in-danger movie, fuelled mainly by idiotic characters making idiotic decisions. It’s thrilling when it wants to be and it’s never anything less than watchable, but far too often it just feels wholly unoriginal. The most obvious comparisons to make are with Alien and Gravity, yet Life never comes close to being as compelling as either – largely in part thanks to its underdeveloped characters, played by interesting actors with uninteresting material to work with. There are multiple hints at a promise of something greater here, so it’s exasperating that Life never lives up to its potential. It certainly gets the job done, but it’s destined to be long-forgotten in a year’s time.