Every now and then a sci-fi film appears out of nowhere to dazzle us with provocative concepts and a fresh take on familiar genre tropes; movies like Ex Machina and more recently, Arrival. Life is not one of those movies – it’s an Alien rip-off of the kind Roger Corman and the Italians were making back in the 1980s, albeit with a bigger budget and a quality cast.
Once again the threat to humankind comes from the red planet. The International Space Station retrieves a probe containing martian soil samples, as well as a single-celled organism which proceeds to grow at a frightening rate until it resembles a translucent jellyfish/facehugger thing with a tendency to crawl down people’s throats. Following a lot of zero gravity blood, panic and opening of airlocks, the ISS astronauts – including Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson – must find a way to stop this seemingly indestructible life form from reaching Earth, otherwise it’s crew expendable.
There’s not a lot going on here that we haven’t seen before in better sci-fi thrillers. Alien and Gravity are the obvious touchstones, although Corman’s Forbidden World also comes to mind sans the schlock value. The characters are a bland lot and you won’t be too concerned about their ultimate fates. Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s done some great work lately (Nightcrawler, Nocturnal Animals), looks like he’s wandered onto the wrong set and decided to hang around and try on a spacesuit, while Ryan Reynolds is, well, Ryan Reynolds.
A creature feature’s flaws can usually be forgiven if it has a cool monster, but Life‘s alien, while fast and furious, is just your average tentacled monstrosity. A B-movie with A-grade credentials, Life works best as an appetiser for the forthcoming Alien: Covenant, or if internet rumour is to be believed (and when isn’t it?), a prequel to Sony’s Spider-Man spin-off Venom. In fact, the latter isn’t as out there a prospect as it sounds.
In cinemas: March 23, 2017
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa