Are we alone in the universe? Does life exist outside our world? Countless movies have provided answers, and yet we still don’t know if intelligent beings inhabit other planets. So now following the generations-long trend, Daniel Espinosa plays his cards. While it may not be as rooted in scientific fact as District 9, Life still forces you to hold your breath out in the inky blackness of space as a single-cell organism grows into a faceless terror with only one instinct: kill.
A Mars Mission of eight astronauts picks up sediment from the red planet, leading to discovery of an unidentified single-celled object—an official confirmation of life in space. This little guy is named “Calvin,” after the elementary school of a select collection of children who sent in televised questions from Times Square. It isn’t long though until Calvin grows appendages and breaks loose from his chamber. It probably wouldn’t be too much to worry about, except his survival depends on the blood of each passenger on board. It’s a long eight month return mission to Earth, so imagine what could happen if they don’t eradicate Calvin before their time runs out!
As the journey sets off, it feels rather promising with a single uninterrupted shot composing the first five minutes, much like what Gravity did on a much larger scale, but everything afterward turns into standard this, standard that. Christopher Nolan took advantage of it in Interstellar, unlike Espinosa who put so little imagination within the empty vastness of space that no emotionally isolating feel comes out of the empty end product. He even feels the need to throw us into Calvin’s point of view at random instances, which makes me question all the more who I’m supposed to be rooting for. Not even Independence Day was foolish enough to change perspectives, so why would it work here?
In fact, you could easily mistake Life for any other movie under the same genre. Many shots mimic set pieces and plot devices from something like Alien with no real originality. While you’re not watching in fear of the gruesome Martian attacks, you’re thinking, “Hmm, where did I see that before? Oh, I remember! It’s just like…” In fact, it becomes so obvious, one character even makes a reference to Reanimator. You know the movie has given up on being original when even the one-dimensional plot devices talk about how clichéd it is.
These talented actors cast as the astronauts certainly look the part, even if they barely have any direction to play from. Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko) gives the most believable performance of the entire cast, which honestly does not say very much. The entire crew consists of a Japanese man, a Black man, a Canadian man, and a bunch of White people with no established ethnic background. The depictions of everyone on board comes off more shallow than racially insensitive, although their accents are blaringly unconvincing. So the alien is not the one destroying our progress as a civilization, but the priority of White Americans over everyone else. Yes, I know: the title for their ship, “International Space Station,” is used quite loosely.
Then they express such stupidly pathetic means of interaction, with laughable on-the-nose exchanges about love, death, and living on Earth. The dialogue written by screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool, Zombieland) repeatedly mentions so much of what we can already see, it honestly made me hope Calvin wins in the end. After all, this faceless probe feels more human than any of those cardboard cutouts made of flesh.
Hey, at least it delivers the suspense it promised us. Especially the plot twist at the very end. It’s not something as cleverly executed or shocking as Planet of the Apes, just a nice slice of dread to all the Gen-X men watching who want a satisfactory recreation of their childhood favorites.
If anything, Life has become less of a tribute to those better sci-fi thrillers, and more of a reminder of how much more fun they are to watch. In fact, you’d be better off watching any one of those classics, as they tell us so much more about the dangers of the universe and its hindrance of mankind. Here are some lists to get you started:
AFI’s Top 10 Sci-Fi
AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
AFI'S 100 YEARS...100 THRILLS. American Film Institute, 2001. Web. <http://www.afi.com/100Years/thrills.aspx>.
Life Movie. Columbia Pictures, Web. <http://www.lifemovie.com/>.
Top 10 Sci-Fi. American Film Institute, 2008. Web. <http://www.afi.com/10top10/category.aspx?cat=7>.
Trailer Addict. Life Theatrical Trailer. Digital image. Flipboard. Web. <https://flipboard.com/@traileraddict/movie-trailers-v13kfff1y>.