'Life' Review: Science Friction
Don’t let its title fool you, the film’s actually more mechanical than alive.
Daniel Espinosa’s Life does a great job teasing its audience about the inclinations it never really bothered to achieve.
The film, which centers on a team of space-bound scientists who are tasked to make something out of small sample of what could possibly be irrefutable proof of life outside Earth, sets its ambitions quite high. After a long take within the cramped space station that briefly introduces the movie’s compact crew of floating scientists of diverse interests, the film immediately starts to lay down the cards of what would essentially be a claustrophobic horror flick set in space.
The space station becomes home to a cellular organism that Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), a biologist whose atrophied legs makes him prefer space’s lack of gravity, successfully revives from hibernation. The creature quickly grows into something with a semblance of sentience, opening the film to intriguing possibilities and propositions.
The screenplay by Deadpool (2016) scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick quickly but half-heartedly introduce a certain friction to the film’s motley band of science geeks, with a faction, headed by quarantine expert Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and security head Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), doubting the wisdom of continuing with the experiments with the alien life form. Hugh Derry plays protective and doting father to the creature, dubbed ‘Calvin’ by school kids from Earth.
There’s a bit of tension between the characters that’s established there. Questions are asked. Morals are challenged.
Espinosa however prefers to keep things shallow, perhaps with the knowledge that the tension’s short-lived because when Calvin grows up from looking like a piece of self-moving phlegm to a sleek squid-like critter, all intelligence would be thrown out of the window for survivalist thrills. Life is most effective when it fully embraces its full preference for violent pleasures and body horror over intellectual discourse.
Sadly, the horror elements of Life are carried to fruition by a character that lacks definition.
David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a Syria war veteran who admits to preferring space to Earth’s messes, is a bland lead. He is dour and tragic, yet his sullenness and misery are bereft of depth. Sure, there are many emotional moments that attempt to add to David’s character, but those moments end up being beleaguered by the film’s desire to keep on propelling forward, reducing each and every one of the 5 characters as just predictable deaths in deep space.
B-movie with high-concept aspirations
There really isn’t anything in the film to care for, not even Calvin, who is simply a creature that gobbles everything in sight, representative of nothing but the by-product of humanity’s recklessness.
At one point, Hugh Derry lovingly describes Calvin as a creature whose “curiosity outweighs its fear.” Life is the opposite. It is a film that favors fear above curiosity. Sure, it works at times, but with its multiple ponderous moments, it certainly feels like it is yearning for some bit of curiosity beyond the need to scare. Unfortunately, the yearnings end up abandoned, and the film takes the easiest route towards its predictable conclusion, which is to simply muscle and shock its way through.
Life really is just space-bound B-movie creature feature with high-concept aspirations. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.