A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station are trapped with a terrifying alien life form.
Director Daniel Espinosa’s new film Life begins with the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) preparing to receive a probe containing soil samples from the surface of Mars which the crew hope will contain life.
As the probe has strayed from its planned trajectory, cocksure crew member Roy Adams (Ryan Reynolds) uses a mechanical arm to catch it, successfully bringing it in so the scientists aboard can examine the soil samples.
Predictably, they find signs of life, with chief scientist Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) particularly excited by the possibilities presented by the new lifeform, which the team name Calvin.
After he provides Calvin with the required conditions for life and stimulates it with glucose, the single-cell critter becomes something more complex - a growing organism capable of interacting with its environment.
Hugh's enthusiasm about Calvin possibly helping cure his paralysis gets the better of him when, despite the scepticism of Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), a tropical disease specialist on board to enforce quarantine protocols, he prods Calvin with electrodes in an attempt to revive it, and, displaying a worrying intelligence, the Martian creature then frees itself from its isolation chamber.
What follows will be recognisable to those who have seen Ridley Scott’s Alien or John Carpenter’s The Thing.
The crew, who also include introverted medical specialist Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Russian scientist Katerina Golovkin (Olga Dihovichnaya) and Japanese crew member Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada), must battle an organism whose capabilities they are unsure of, but which they know will kill them in its battle to obtain the resources it needs to survive.
Unfortunately the film’s familiarity is its weakness; Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script lacks the ability to surprise when it covers ground trodden by Alien almost 40 years ago and by many others since.
It also suffers from comparisons to the recent spate of high-quality sci-fi movies including Interstellar, The Martian and Arrival.
Life, whose cinematography and premise sometimes seems inspired by another successful space-based flick, Gravity, is a more simple nuts-and-bolts horror tale of characters trapped in an enclosed space with a life form intent on their destruction.
That said, Espinosa’s direction keeps the film moving along and provides zero gravity blood and gore with an enthusiasm that makes some scenes genuinely frightening, even when the audience can guess what’s coming next.
The standout performance comes from Ferguson, who is forced to make decisions that may condemn her colleagues to a grisly death.
In an understated role, Gyllenhaal is also on form - although his character is underused, as much of the film’s early focus is on Hugh and Miranda’s different approaches to dealing with the alien in their midst.
Stylish direction and a final confounding twist elevate Life beyond mediocrity into a film that will keep sci-fi devotees happy until Alien: Covenant hits cinemas this summer.
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