Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, some Sci-Fi Violence and Terror
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Written by: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare & Olga Dihovichnaya
When I first saw the trailer for LIFE, I thought it strongly resembled a certain 1979 horror classic. I’m sure that some studio executives felt the same way, because they quickly swapped the film’s release date from May to March in order to avoid competing with a prequel to that 1979 horror classic. My hopes weren’t exactly high for this film because it seemed derivative and unoriginal from premise to promotional material. However, I decided to give LIFE a shot and surprisingly enjoyed this film. It’s not mindblowing or terrifying, but it’s a fun little sci-fi horror romp with loads of good qualities.
The ISS (International Space Station) is manned by a tight six-person crew and they’ve recently undertaken a mission to retrieve a soil sample from Mars. Wouldn’t you know it, the red planet’s dirt contains a bit of alien DNA. With some experimentation, one scientist manages to resurrect a cell and it becomes a rapidly evolving organism. Unfortunately for the ISS crew, the organism (nicknamed “Calvin”) reveals deadly tendencies and begins to run amok. In order to save themselves and the human race, the ISS crew will have to kill Calvin before it kills them.
That plot description might not sound like the most intriguing thing in the world because LIFE is like ALIEN crossed with THE BLOB. However, there’s pleasure to be taken from that as this B-movie material is executed with A-grade effort. The effects are top-notch as “Calvin” frequently shapeshifts depending on his growth and environment. This monster resembles more of a plant/squid hybrid than any straight-up horrific beast. “Calvin” is beautiful to look at, which makes his bloody rampage even more cool to watch. The creature design was based on a cross between actual fungus and moss found in nature, so there’s even an extra bit of realism to this threat.
Concerning “Calvin’s” actions, LIFE embraces its R rating with gleefully memorable kills. This isn’t a total gorefest, but things get very violent and (at points) disturbing. A couple of the film’s best deaths take a less-is-more approach, letting our imagination fill in the most graphic bits and giving us enough on-screen details to confirm our worst fears. There’s also a stellar sequence in outer space that sees a uniquely twisted demise. Basically, LIFE is a slasher film crossed with a creature feature and its entertaining when taken as either of those things or a combination of both.
As far as the ISS crew members go, LIFE fumbles the character development a bit as these people are mostly one-note stereotypes. The performances from a talented bunch of actors make them likable enough, but there’s next to nothing to them. Sure, there have ham-fisted attempts to flesh them out a bit. Jake Gyllenhaal reads from a children’s book, Rebecca Ferguson is a hard-ass with a penchant for protocols, Ryan Reynolds is his usual sarcastic self, Hiroyuki Sanada is a new father, Ariyon Bakare is a scientist who has insights on the creature, and Olga Dihovichnaya is the Russian one. However, there simply isn’t much to these thin characters…other than being lambs to the slaughter.
LIFE has its fair share of familiarity and clichés. There are attempts to kill “Calvin” that are directly lifted from the ALIEN series (complete with flamethrowers, ship thrusters, and air vents). However, these are made up for by the monster being so damn interesting and effective tension that’s built up with a skillful eye behind the camera. I’m also going to praise the hell of out this film’s ending, because, holy shit, this conclusion is awesome! I loved the final minutes and found them to be effectively haunting. It was the meanest possible way to end this story and I applaud the screenwriters’/director’s viciousness in having the balls to go there.
Overall, LIFE isn’t exactly original, but the ALIEN mixed with THE BLOB storyline provides plenty of entertainment on its own merits. Throw in a cast that breathe likability into rather dull characters, lots of effective tension that overcomes the clichéd familiarity, and one of the freakiest aliens to hit the big screen in quite some time, then you’ve got yourself a winner. LIFE is shockingly good and I give it a hearty recommendation for those who are craving a cool creature feature.