Six astronauts aboard the space station study a sample collected from Mars that could provide evidence for extraterrestrial life on the Red Planet. The crew determines that the sample contains a large, single-celled organism - the first example of life beyond Earth. But..things aren't always what they seem. As the crew begins to conduct research, and their methods end up having unintended consequences, the life form proves more intelligent than anyone ever expected.
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
. Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada
, Ryan Reynolds
, Rebecca Ferguson
, Jake Gyllenhaal
, Olga Dykhovichnaya
, Ariyon Bakare
, Jesus Del Orden
, Allen McLean
, Leila Grace
, Mari Gvelesiani
, David Muir
, Elizabeth Vargas
, Camiel Warren-Taylor
. Music by: Jon Ekstrand
Minor Spoilers Ahead A probe carrying soil samples from Mars needs to be captured. The six man crew aboard the ISS (International Space Station) plans to do just that using the Canadarm. Pilot Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) goes out on a spacewalk to control the arm and they are able to capture the probe. We are introduced to the rest of the crew gradually including: Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) and Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare). They're a tight bunch for the most part and they're excited about the possibilities the mission could lead to.
They individually test the samples that the probe has brought and they discover a single cell organism. It doesn't respond immediately but they are able to bring the organism back to life using a change in atmosphere in the tank and glucose. Over the next few days, "Calvin" (there was a contest to name it back on Earth) grows rapidly and has a different makeup than any other being we know of. He's simultaneously all brain matter, all muscle and all ocular nerve among other things. He's the size of a small flower after 7 days. After a breach in his containment unit he goes into a hibernation state. They try to wake him with electricity and it works but Calvin is no longer playful, he snaps the electric wand and crushes Hugh's hand causing a panic on the ship.
Life has a couple of characters that they focus on a little more but the movie operates as more of a ensemble film. I think this actually works in the movie's favour, you get to know the characters just enough that you don't want to see them become Calvin's victims. However, other than one of the more popular actors being the first to die, I was never really upset when one of them was in terrible danger. This was a careful line to walk, its hard to give everyone the proper screen time in this type of movie. Unlike other ensemble movies, I was never annoyed that someone didn't get their due. The character development was never too lopsided and I would say the same about the screen time that was issued.
The look of the movie and the science fiction concepts they decide to use also walk a fine line. The ISS seems so far ahead yet seems relatively grounded versus other sci-fi genre entries. The movie has a certain beauty (some of the opening shots are great considering they're all done in one shot) and it rarely falters. The design of Calvin isn't ground breaking (it looked like a translucent stingray combined with something that could walk) but it was unique enough to keep me interested.
Most of the unfavourable reviews Life has garnered have mentioned how its too similar to Alien and piggybacking off Alien's premise. I can't make that argument disappear completely. It is similar to Alien at it's core. A homicidal alien trapped in an enclosed environment bent on killing humans. But I do think that Life does a lot to distance itself. None of the characters really compare to Ripley, they operate more as a collective group. You can't get much more different from a Xenomorph to Calvin in their respective creature design. In most of the movies in the Alien franchise, there is some selfish motivation from either the Weyland Corporation or one of the crew members to endanger the others in the pursuit of doing something with the Xenomorphs (or the Engineers in Prometheus). In this movie, the crew are almost falling over each other to sacrifice themselves to get rid of Calvin and there isn't some sinister reason that they are trapped with Calvin, they are victims of circumstance and security protocols that dictate they must die rather than let Calvin get to Earth. So while there are some similarities, there are some key differences too.
The cast of Life features some well-known actorsactresses that I like but I wasn't familiar with all of them. Jake Gyllenhaal is technically the lead in this movie and he disappears into his character. It would be a bigger surprise if he wasn't excellent. I really liked Rebecca Ferguson in this. I was a little disappointed in the Girl on the Train but she worked a lot better in Life. She's a nice mix of collected yet compassionate. Ryan Reynolds was solid, I wish he'd been allowed to cut loose a little more but this is a pretty serious movie. Hiroyuki, Ariyon and Olga are all good. Life is a pretty calculated movie so other than acting horrified, the actors don't get very many opportunities to show a wide range of emotions.
I really like how Life went for a darker ending. They have the setup that's closer to a typical horror ending (it actually would have fit pretty well in the Alien series). Then they introduce a last-minute twist that really takes the movie in a more bleak direction. It might leave you a little confused at first but it fits if you consider everything that happens at the end.
People have been very critical of Life and I don't think the criticism has been entirely fair. Its okay to have more than one franchise in the genre and Life works as its own thing. They were talking about a sequel and I don't see how that would work, the ending seems pretty final. Life doesn't re-invent the genre but it's well put together in almost every way. It does work better as a thriller than a horror movie, it was pretty gory but I was never really frightened. If you're in the mood for a thriller with some science fiction, you could do worse than Life.
Review by CANpatbuck3664 from the Internet Movie Database.