Life is one of those movies that slipped through the cracks. Despite the draw of stars like Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds, as well as an Alien-esque premise, it flew in so far under the radar that it’s already been all but forgotten.
Life wastes absolutely no time in setting up its story, instead getting straight to the point: a team on the International Space Station are tasked with recovering a probe containing soil samples from Mars. After the successful recovery of the probe, they discover a single dormant cell, surmising that they’ve found proof of extra-terrestrial life.
What ensues is fairly predictable, something which Life drew a lot of criticism for. Many felt that it bore a striking resemblance to Alien, and dismissed it out of hand. But Life has a lot of unique and refreshing qualities that make overlooking those similarities well worth it.
It’s worth mentioning that with almost the entirety of the movie taking place on the ISS, it was shot using wires to simulate zero-gravity. The effect is impressive, although Life received little credit – after all, Gravity had done it before, and it was once more chalked up to imitation on the part of director Daniel Espinosa.
One of the best things about Life is its refusal to hold the audience’s hand. Many science-heavy sci-fi movies make overuse of wooden, unrealistic exposition to keep the audience apprised of every development, but Life explains the bare minimum, allowing us to think for ourselves. It’s in these moments of reflection that Espinosa usually ups the tension, leading to a sense of unrelenting wariness, as well as a reluctance to miss a single thing.
Life is fast paced, without feeling rushed. It was cleverly written to reflect the characters’ individual natures, but each of their personalities has been filtered down to be viewed through the scope of their apparent astronaut training; their emotional impulses and responses are constantly at odds with their fear, and it’s no stretch to think of each and every one as a person of science.
Appropriately, Life feels remarkably organic for a movie based so firmly in science fiction. This is due in no small part to the film’s outstanding effects, which managed to be just spectacular enough for us to believe wholeheartedly without distracting us from the experience.
One criticism is Life‘s reluctance to make use of one of its greatest assets in Gyllenhaal. He’s an incredibly talented actor, but his character makes for a lifeless and uninteresting protagonist – this is something of a plot point and was clearly intended, but it’s certainly an odd choice.
Yes, Life may have borrowed from one or two movies that came before. But it’s a unique, refreshingly exciting sci-fi horror that’s far more a worthy successor to Alien than many of the franchise’s actual sequels – and to that end, it’s well worth a watch.
Summary: Claustrophobic, atmospheric and beautifully presented, Life is probably the best rip-off out there.