Space themed horror made its mark with the 1979 Ridley Scott classic “Alien” in which a group of astronauts are forced into confrontation with a murderous foreign entity. Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa borrows elements from this with his 2017 Science Fiction thriller “Life.”I love the way the movie opens. We see a crew of astronauts on board the International Space Station, and while the technology mankind has evolved with since rocks and hammers and the wheel is astonishing, there is still so much we don’t know or have control over, and Espinosa captures this brilliantly as the flickering lights of the space station are nearly drowned out amidst the vast darkness of deep space around them.
The six-member crew is as eclectic a mix as one could imagine, with a Russian born commander (Olga Dihovichnaya), a maverick daredevil of a pilot (Ryan Reynolds) and a Japanese engineer (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dr. David Jordan, a loner type who has been on board the station longer than anyone else – well over a year – and has no desires to go back to Earth and the terrible ways of mankind. Fellow doctor Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) plays a potential love interest, with hints at mutual feelings just delicately broached during interactions with Jordan.
The crew has just brought on board a soil sample from Mars that contains the first sign of extraterrestrial life – not a bug-eyed being in a silver flight suit or even a gruesome monster as seen in “Alien,” but a microscopic organism that can only be viewed under intense magnification.
“Life” does a great job of portraying the events in a realistic fashion. The crew is shown with a tight nit bond as one would expect from people living in cramped quarters for extended periods of time may have. Technology is on display in a plausible fashion as we see the astronauts snapping photos for Instagram and communicating via Skype with loved ones back home.
The discovery of the otherworldly life brings joy to the people of Earth. A great scene demonstrates this in which a live feed of the astronauts is broadcast in Times Square and a group of classmates celebrate their school being chosen to name the being (They select ‘Calvin’ after (former) President Calvin Collage and again, it’s a completely relateable atmosphere for anyone who resides in the present day).
The joy is of course short lived as ‘Calvin’ turns out to be more than just a simple and defenseless organism, with accelerated growth, and a primal desire to survive at all costs.
On the surface, “Life” is a straight forward horror movie depicting human versus monster, but the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey and the direction of Daniel Espinosa bring out so much more.
The sheer claustrophobic nature of the situation is well demonstrated, astronauts confined to small rooms on the station, sleeping in tiny coffin sized chambers, and wearing restricting space suits is enough to make anyone uneasy. But there’s just something so horrifying as seeing the bright lights of Earth beneath you and yet being so far away from home that’s chilling. The special effects used to create the ambiance are a thing of beauty.
I also enjoyed the alien being ‘Calvin’ in its early depiction as a single-celled microscopic organism. When people envision life on Mars or other planets, they generally jump to humanoid beings as what they would find. As was the case on Earth, life comes in many different forms, shapes, and sizes.
The acting is good from al parties involved, with no real weak link. The run time is crisp at 1:44 – perfect for the type of movie it is. Characters are developed as well as needed in the first act, and after that its pretty much fast paced mayhem until the end and that’s okay with what the movie is supposed to be.
I recommend seeing “Life” in the theater where the atmosphere of outer space will be on full display. October horror movie viewing is now less than six months away, so if you miss it now, you can always pick it up then.
by – Matt Christopher