There isn’t much wrong with what Life aspires to be. It borrows an existing template to travel a well-worn path, features a clichéd set of characters with base-level characterizations, makes good use of tension & suspense, maintains a consistent pace throughout its runtime, and manages to be quite engaging despite its highly predictable storyline. It’s far from a great film but then, it never intended to be one.
The story of Life follows a six-member crew aboard the International Space Station who intercept a space probe returning from Mars with soil samples that could provide the first ever evidence of life beyond Earth. On studying the sample, they discover a dormant single-celled life form that quickly evolves into a multi-celled organism and proves to be far more intelligent than they anticipated.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa, Life brings nothing new to the table and is derived from numerous existing & much superior examples. The movie’s plot outline is lifted from Ridley Scott’s Alien, its camerawork is a bit inspired from Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, and the scripted people inhabiting its tale are a result of a lack of imagination. Espinosa’s direction is still good, for he is able to make its dull plot at least a tad interesting.
Its poorly written screenplay uses the hackneyed formula for the plot and doesn’t even attempt to add something that would make its characters compelling on some level. They are supposed to be astronauts yet the stupid decisions they keep making throughout the movie is astonishing. It’s just Rebecca Ferguson’s character who showcases some sort of common sense while the remaining crew is too bland to be worthy of any emotional investment.
The technical aspects are well executed. Production design team recreates the International Space Station in splendid detail and the zero gravity ambience is convincingly portrayed. Cinematography makes fab use of the camera, opening with a long, unbroken & single-take scene, and encapsulates the whole picture with a claustrophobic aura. Editing provides a steady pace and keeps everything firmly stacked, and its intermittently rousing score has an overpowering feel to it.
Coming to the performances, Life features a fabulous cast in Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare & Olga Dihovichnaya amongst whom only Ferguson manages to impress, that too in bits n pieces. Gyllenhaal could’ve done a lot more had there been more meat on his character’s arc. Reynolds is there to play himself and does it without hassle. But the alien happens to exhibit more attributes than all the humans present at ISS combined.
On an overall scale, Life is marred by numerous shortcomings and is severely lacking in originality but it still makes up for an adequate sci-fi horror that’s quite enjoyable & moderately entertaining. The available resources are expertly utilized by Espinosa, the thrilling moments keep surfacing at regular intervals, and it is well aware of its limitations, however, there was still room for improvement, for the movie never really takes advantage of its R-rating, is filled with cringeworthy dialogues, and wraps itself up with an ending that it thinks is clever but is actually as trite as it can get.