Life (2017) (Review)

Continuing the emerging niche market of adult sci-fi fare during the pre and post summer blockbuster window, Life joins the likes of Arrival, Passengers, The Martian, Interstellar and Gravity by attempting to offer something wholly original in the tentpole and franchise-fuelled industry. While my particular fondness of the genre is a little hit and miss, the marketing and trailers for Life set out a terrific, promising piece to continue bearing the torch, infusing this Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds outing with horror similar to that of the Alien series. Therefore, I'm genuinely disappointed to report that, despite the name suggesting otherwise, there is no signs of Life in this sci-fi horror adventure.

Six members of the International Space Station successfully capture a space probe returning from Mars with a soil sample that proves to be the first evidence of extraterrestrial life. Managing to extract a single-cell from the sample, Biologist Huge Derry grows it into a multi-celled organism that grows quickly in an adjusted atmosphere. However, realising that each cell in the organism is a myocyte, neutron and photoreceptor (meaning it can move, think and see), they quickly realise that this may be a discovery they live to regret. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds star as the names-above-the-poster while Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Baker and Olga Dihovichnaya perform in supporting roles. 

Note above that I haven't provided any names, as the characters are completely forgettable, with the script failing to afford any depth or development to any of the six scientists aboard the ISS. You struggle to care for them or will for their survival, as the film plays out with little urge and in an entirely perfunctory way, caring more for a plot that feels completely derivative of similar films, than characters or even thematic advancement, which is where a lot of the promise actually rests. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's script is shallow, indicative of the entire picture, never delivering anything beyond surface detail and struggling to maintain even that basic level. Characters are picked off on by one in what strives to be inventive ways but never really achieves, providing everything by-the-numbers with little consideration beyond that sequel they try to set up. Director Daniel Espinosa attempts to jazz it up but its largely hit or miss, with some elements that feel entirely 'style over substance', including the unnecessarily elongated opening sequence and a mid-point chase scene - although, admittedly, the very final shot is truly gorgeous but completely out of place in this otherwise sub-standard flick. Special effects are decent but nothing overly remarkable, especially when held next to the likes of the groundbreaking Gravity and Interstellar, or even Alien, which the film so openly aspires to be. Even the production design is unspectacular, particularly for a film of this budget (roughly $58 million).

While various elements let the film down, the most glaring issue with Life is that it is genuinely boring. It's incontrovertible to suggest that Life isn't without its moments, crafting some spots of genuine intensity, peppered mainly throughout the first act and the transition into the middle act, as well as a couple of moments at the very end of the picture, but besides that, it never nearly compels you to stay throughout it, endlessly drifting into stretches of boredom and complete perplexity like a body floating in space. Aforementioned ending is entirely predictable but kind of thrilling, with a sprinkle of scenes predominantly based in the lab promising; but apart from these brief moments, everything else struggles to hit the mark, imitative and poorly executed with little in the way of convincing you this is anything other than a place holder until the next sci-fi picture comes rolling around. Kelvin, the alien at the heart, is decently designed and is the closest thing to memorable the film conjures up. In this premise exists a genuinely exciting film but the final product is far from that, a shadow of its potential and a truly forgettable exercise in conventionality.

Both the lead and supporting performances are decent enough but no one is truly given an opportunity to shine, restricted in doing so by the poor and uninspired script that leaves you with a couple of eye-rolls every now and then. Without meaning offence to the BBC show, Life is basically an episode of Doctor Who extended into a feature-length runtime - except, this isn't a Weeping Angel masterpiece or Dalek classic, but instead a series filler only placed to pass the time in the middle of a weaker season. Much like your average series of Doctor Who, it suffers from pacing issues and its 103 minute runtime could do with a 15 minute trim to make it a more robust piece of cinema which could possibly alleviate a few of its nagging issues; that would also result in a tighter script with less time to deviate and one that may make more sense with a stronger notion of cohesion. A shorter time would possibly cut out a lot of that boredom too, which is probably the most perplexing element of this film.

Tiresome and tedious, Life never comes to grips with the promise its premise hints at, with the interesting themes foregone for narrative work that feels conventional every step of the way, in terms of both science-fiction tropes and horror cliches. Humanity's hunger to know more than they should and the consequences of actually finding extra-terrestrial life would be a more interesting idea to play with, but is abandoned for a more perfunctory, uninspired angle, abandoning a lot of the tension its deserves. A few decent directorial flourishes are effective and the cast is passable with the material they are afforded - but on the whole and rather ironically, Life is rather lifeless experience.


Summary: It is with no pleasure at all that I must report that there is no sign of Life here. It is a soulless exercise of science-fiction and horror conventions, with a weak, uninspired script weighing down what could have been a promising continuation of the new-found 'sci-fi for adults canon.

Highlight: The last shot is genuinely beautiful - it is honestly one of the most beautiful things I've seen. It also signalled the end of the film, so it was a win-win.