Film Review: ‘Life’

Anxiety ridden and entertaining as hell, ‘Life’ is breathtaking.

Directed by Daniel Espinosa, ‘Life’ is about a group of astronauts aboard the International Space Station who discover the first extraterrestrial life form–a seemingly single celled organism named Calvin, which promptly grows into nightmarish alien that, hellbent on its own survival, begins to pick off crew members one by one. The trailer–in a rare display of taste and decency–doesn’t give too much away, including a stellar twist at the end of the first act. While there’s some room for improvement on the film’s characters and dialogue, that’s not why we’re here; ‘Life’ ultimately delivers a spellbinding thrill ride that will swallow you in from the first minute, and spit you out tired and fatigued from all of the anxiety that it produces–in a good way.

If you haven’t already gathered, this movie is stressful, really stressful (it’s comparable to and only superseded by ‘Green Room’ in this respect). ‘Life’ debuts graphic and original ways of killing astronauts that are sure to crush any child’s dreams of space exploration. The reprieves, both brief and sparse, hardly allow you to catch your breath between panic-inducing scenes that will leave your hand firmly planted over your mouth. But man is it exhilarating. If rollercoasters are your type of thing, ‘Life’ will not disappoint.

Also worth mentioning are the movie’s action scenes and excellent camera work: Both are beautifully choreographed to take full advantage of the films zero gravity setting. For example, ‘Life’ opens with a gyroscopic long take, dizzying and dazzling, that showcases the cinematographer’s behind-the-camera prowess.

While certainly not the main focus of the film, the characters and dialogue left something to be desired. Each of the six crew members on the ISS get approximately one line of backstory informing the audience on why they should sympathize with these sentient pieces of toast. Somebody’s wife just had a kid, somebody has a dog–hell, I’m not even sure we get anything about Rebecca Ferguson’s character, though it may have been so quick I missed it. The dialogue isn’t great either, and occasionally it comes off as unprompted or random, leading to a few chuckles from the audience during serious scenes. However, both character and dialogue are exactly what they need to be–present, and their lack of magnificence didn’t detract much from my enjoyment of the film over all.

Now inevitably, this film is going to be compared to that other film about a murderous alien romping about a spacecraft–you know, ‘Alien’–and the premise is indeed quite similar. Unlike ‘Alien,’ however, ‘Life’ capitalizes on the recent trend of the more “realistic” sci-fi movie (think ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’). In addition to taking place on the ISS rather than in deep space, the film goes through (unnecessary) great lengths to explain that Calvin, unlike the titular alien of ‘Alien,’ isn’t some malevolent monster, it’s just a dude trying to survive, and his survival just happens to be contingent on the violent murder of astronauts. This is reflected in Calvin’s name and restrained creature design, and while not outstanding, they fit the film’s more realistic approach to sci-fi horror. And horrifying it is.

‘Life’ is a thrilling addition to the more reserved sci-fi cannon of late.

Photo courtesy of Facebook.

‘Life’ comes out March 24.

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