The exhilaration of discovery and the horror of annihilation come face-to-face in Daniel Espinosa’s creepy science-fiction horror film Life.
Set in the not so distant future, Life follows the activities of a group of astronauts and scientists on the International Space Station, as they discover a brand new alien discovery from the planet Mars. But their initial celebration soon turns into a mission of critical containment, as their discovery turns against them, threatening the very existence of the Earth itself.
If you’re looking for a sci-fi thriller horror ride then Life is worth your money. Throughout its engaging 103 minutes, Espinosa takes audience expectations and throws it back in their faces with some intriguing twists and breathtaking scares.
Espinosa and noted screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have crafted a well-thought haunted house of a movie that focuses on a core group of astronauts that include Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan, an American medical officer; Rebecca Ferguson as Dr. Miranda North, a British quarantine officer; Ariyon Bakare as Hugh Derry, a British biologist, and Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams, an American engineer and pilot officer of the ISS.
But Life is not a character study, and the action ramps up quickly with the discovery of a single cell alien organism of nerve and muscle tissue that is christened Calvin. It’s here that the trouble begins, and Espinosa unleashes one of his most potent themes: humanity’s god complex.
Excited by his discovery, Bakare’s Derry is soon obsessed by the growing organism, and sees it as a possibility to potentially cure the deadly paralysis that has crippled him on earth. Constantly poking and prodding the new specimen, he soon incites its anger. It is Derry’s belief in his own superiority and intelligence that puts Earth in danger, and is a chilling reminder that no man can ever be as clever as the universe.
Espinosa raises the stakes again and again with a series of thrills as Gyllenhaal, Ferguson and Reynolds desperately try to contain Calvin within the ISS. Every tragic misstep by the crew is well thought out, with Espinosa presenting his characters with tough decisions and multiple-choice pathways. Turn to the left and escape, or turn to the right and face death. The choices are far from simple, and as an audience member you’re caught off guard just as much as the astronauts are.
Life also makes special use of its unique setting: outer space. Ninety-five percent of the action is set in zero-gravity, and it’s thrilling to watch the long steadicam passes as our heroes glide through the silent corridors of the ISS doing their best to outsmart Calvin. Espinosa also uses the space of the ISS in an interesting way, at first presenting it as this stunning piece of human ingenuity before turning it into a twisting and jagged maze of dangerous turns.
Extensive CGI is used to make the most of the film’s space setting, and to realise the ever-evolving creepiness of Calvin. At first appearing as nothing more than a piece of muscle tissue, this alien life form grows into a terrifying mess of a creature.
Bold and original, this film contained one of the most shocking and memorable endings that I can remember seeing in a long time. Life means to scare and shock…and it certainly accomplished both.
Image: Sony Pictures