Film Review: Life (USA, 2017) hits all the beats we’re used to but in a more polished container

One day Hollywood might be able to come up with a new science fiction movie that has us discovering a fluffy cute adorable friendly alien. One day Hollywood might be able to come up with a group of characters who actually have character development, prior to being ruthlessly dispatched. One day Hollywood might be able to stop cloning itself and come up with some new, fresh and original ideas. But today is not that day. So if you are OK with the idea of something that’s a bit like Alien meets Event Horizon meets Gravity then you will probably enjoy Life.

Half a dozen astronauts inside the International Space Station, find an organism originating from Mars space dirt, proof of the existence of life outside of Planet Earth. The initially single celled organism thanks to some favourable conditions and stupid astronauts mucking about with it, manages to grow exponentially. Everything goes to shit and in order to try and save the entire planet below they must try to kill it. Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) steers the film to hit beats reminiscent of Alien or Event Horizon, so basically if you’re a fan of those then you should at least be satisfied with this. There are your usual jump scares and plenty of ways in which people die a horrible and grisly death. So this is not really for the faint-hearted or weak stomach either.

The screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool) manage to insert a couple of jokes in before chucking all that out the airlock and getting down to death by numbers business. Unsurprisingly the laughs are predominantly delivered by their Deadpool buddy Ryan Reynolds. Typically the characters are a little two dimensional and we’re not really given much depth or exposition, except for Jake Gyllenhaal who we’re told is the longest serving person on the space station… basically because he hates all humans. Not entirely sure how that works since he’s officially trapped in a claustrophobic metal tin can with 5 other people but sure? I mean at least they managed to check the racial diversity card off with 2 x American (shhhh Reynolds is Canadian but his character is American), 2 x British, 1 x Russian and 1 x Japanese and 1 x Martian on board. And technically it kinda does pass the Bechdel Test with Captain Kat (Olga Dihovichnaya) and Centers for Disease Control officer Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) rounding out the female crew members.

Where the film attempts to have a point of difference is in making a slick and polished sci-fi horror. The first 15 minutes include some great tracking shots of the crew floating around in Zero G (movie magic when in actuality they were all hanging off wires) going about their business aboard the space station. Everything on board looks clean and well kept, well at least until all mayhem breaks out. They’ve also come up with an interesting creature design – it starts off a bit like a starfish type thing that then morphs into a squid type thing that then ends up looking a bit like the Demogorgon from Stranger Things but with tentacles instead of legs. Another point of difference is that they are intent on reiterating the point that the creature is only reacting as a means of survival. Yet this survival instinct is something the human characters seem to lack by partaking in such stupid moves as going into sealed rooms to save a colleague instead of keeping it locked or using up all the fuel in your handheld flame thrower. Which probably just proves the point that aliens are smarter than us.

Without wanting to give anything away, I did actually imagine a far crazier ending, so what was delivered was only a let down because I was hoping for something wildly different than what was received. But the sum of the parts of this film is actually a decent enough sci-fi horror that hits all the beats we’re used to but in a bit of a more polished container. So if you’re hungry for that sort of thing and waiting around until Alien: Covenant is too long for you, go check out Life.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 104 minutes

Life is screening in Australian cinemas now through Sony Pictures Australia