Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson
The Mars life form that the scientists aboard the International Space Station meddle with is almost hinted at as a tragic creature, a bit like the Frankenstein’s monster. It’s forced into existence, and when it attempts to do that which every living being considers its greatest purpose — survival — those responsible for its life want nothing more than to finish it off. For as long as it lasts, the most interesting relationship in the film is the one between the doctor on board, Hugh (Ariyon Bakare), and the creature, dubbed Calvin. At one point, the other crew members even make a joke about the potential custody battle over the creature, should they safely return to earth. Well after it becomes hostile, Hugh still retains affection over it. “It doesn’t hate us, but it has to kill us. To survive,” he says. Life, during those brief bits near the beginning, is almost a probe into the very nature of existence, into the moral complications necessitated by the urge to survive.
During those initial portions, the scenes brim with tension. It’s at a time when the creature hasn’t revealed all the aces up his sleeve. The morbid curiosity of the crew, and the ignorance over the creature’s abilities make for some absorbing sequences. Once director Daniel Espinosa exposes the creature’s cards though, once you understand the full repertoire of its skills, once you are aware of its danger, Life runs out of fuel and simply meanders through the cliches associated with the space horror genre.
The creature, Calvin, is originally said to be ‘all eyes, all brain, and all muscle’. Yet, it ends up growing a face seemingly inspired from Ridley Scott’s Alien with conventional eyes. The film’s mutation is a bit like the creature’s, in a sense. Promising, fascinating beginnings soon deteriorate into mundane familiar developments. Amid all this, Espinosa is also at all times seemingly conscious of the fascinating we have for space. And so, Life also doubles up as Space 101 for Dummies in a way. At various times, you’re shown — sometimes told — how stuff works in space. How tears float. How blood gushes out of a gash. Hell, even how defecation works. Espinosa, in a sense, is like that friend who makes you watch a show he loves, but at all times, you know he’s watching you, grinning from end-to-end. Thankfully, he doesn’t hold back in the depiction of violence. The unexpected death of a leading character in the beginning is a memorably horrific moment.
However, the characters themselves aren’t half as memorable. They are neither loveable nor detestable. The people aboard the ISS, the protagonists, are just generic definitions: the quiet one, the funny one… you get the idea. And towards the latter portions, as you wait for the crew to get wiped out, as always happens in these films, it’s a problem that you don’t care for their safety, thanks to a distinct lack of memorable personalities and exchanges. How they got Jake Gyllenhaal convinced, I’ll never know.
Life isn’t horrible; but it’s not terrific either. For a brief period in the beginning, it’s wonderful and deep before monotony and weariness set in. I wonder then if the title is an existential joke.