Life, the new sci-fi-horror film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, is an inconsistent but overall sturdy genre pic that looks great and ultimately delivers the goods despite a few slow patches and a couple of remarkably dumb moments.
Credit director Daniel Espinosa for setting a grim tone and sticking with it through the very end. Too many big-budget films wimp out with their visions, but Life isn’t afraid to go to the dark place and stick around until the credits roll.
Gyllenhaal and Reynolds play astronauts pulling a long haul on an international space station. Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan is actually about to break the record for consecutive days in space, and generally prefers life in the stars to life back on our miserable planet.
The crew is awaiting a space capsule containing samples from Mars, and these samples will put forth an amazing discovery: life beyond our planet. Ship scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers a cell, wakes it up, and marvels at its ability to grow at a rapid pace. He eventually finds himself marveling at the little guy’s ability to grab on to his glove and basically mulch the hand within it.
So, as the viewer quickly discovers, life on Mars was probably a total shit show, because this globular nasty—a distant cousin of Steve McQueen’s The Blob—digs on killing everything in its path. The expedition goes from a triumphant discovery to ultra protective mode in a matter of seconds. If this thing gets to Earth, the Blue Planet will look like the Orange Planet virtually overnight.
The movie hums along nicely for a while as the organism picks off crewmembers in grisly fashion. Some of those death scenes will impress those of you who like your movie deaths yucky, and Life does good things with weightless blood-splattering.
The momentum gets interrupted by one genuinely dumb death scene that makes no sense and a few talky scenes that go on a little too long. While these scenes don’t derail the film, they do take it down a couple of notches and qualify as genuine flaws. Without them, Espinosa was on his way to a very good sci-fi offering instead of a passably good one.
Gyllenhaal, playing what is essentially the male lead, is his usual reliable self, giving his character a few quirks to make him original. Reynolds gives the movie a few laughs before the alien’s dinner bell gets rung, and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) is good as the ship’s voice of reason.
While it can be said that the film borrows from other genre standbys like Alien and Event Horizon, its central monster has plenty of original qualities, and its method of killing people from the inside is terrifying. There were enough original moments to distinguish the film as more than an Alien rip-off. (I’ve seen a few complaints branding the film as such.)
The movie gets high marks for its technical achievements, including some nice camerawork and mostly solid editing. The musical score gets a little sleepy at times, and distracting at others. It’s not bad, but when you notice the score too much during dialogue scenes, something is usually a little off.
If you’re thinking this is Deadpool in Space, don’t go. Reynolds, although very good in the film, has a supporting role. This is basically Gyllenhaal’s film, so if you are looking for Donnie Darko in Space, or Jarhead in Space, you should be OK.
The movie leaves itself open to a sequel, but it’s doubtful that will happen. It’s not making the big bucks, and the setup would call for a film with an enormous budget. Life is one of those movies that entertains, for sure, but probably won’t stick in your mind for long after viewing it. It’s on its way to minor cult status, but not much more.