Life - This Highly Derivative Movie Surprisingly Rocks. In A Highly Derivative Way
Dir: Daniel Espinosa
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare
It’s a shame that the screening of Life lastword attended was preceded by a trailer for Alien Covenant. The comparisons are inevitable, indeed, Daniel Espinosa and his team seem to positively encourage them. Which somewhat unexpectedly works in Life’s favour. Whilst this space horror/thriller/monster movie has not an original bone in any of its soon to be lifeless bodies, it does have a degree of charm in its openly derivative nature, and a decent set of schlock movie thrills along the way.
Gyllenhaal, giving a performance that screams “Crew Member Most Likely To Fail Psych Evaluation Test” is the ostensible lead, alongside Reynolds and Ferguson, but, truth be told, this is an ensemble piece, focusing on a crew that bring on board a new form of life (yes, like in Alien), that soon turns out to be deeply unfriendly as it morphs into bigger and badder versions of itself (yes, like in Alien.) Soon, it becomes a case of cling on to your armrests as our crew are picked off one by one (yes, like in…you know.)
Director Espinosa and his DP Seamus McGarvey also take more than a few visual cues from Gravity, notably their beautifully constructed extended opening shot of life in zero-g as the crew move through their space station to retrieve the probe with the sample that turns deadly. The movie actually makes great use of this lack of gravity, giving the whole film an almost woozy, free-floating feel that aids the terror significantly as it escalates. The creature too benefits from an original design, at times resembling a willowy plant as much as a flying insect – even looking a touch like an intergalactic Audrey II at crucial kill points. John Ekstrand’s score initially comes across as unnecessarily bombastic, but soon the movie’s mood catches up with it, and the music becomes of the film’s real strengths.
If Life wasn’t opening a mere few weeks from Ridley Scott’s hugely anticipated return to his Alien-verse, it might have time to find its own feet. That said, for something that purports to be largely derivative – but with style, and which displays a strong sense of how to mount that tension – Life finds a way.
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