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article imageReview: ‘Life’ draws from similar past experiences Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Mar 24, 2017 in Entertainment
‘Life’ is a conventional but entertaining sci-fi movie in which a space crew is hunted by a newly discovered alien species that could threaten the human race.
The exploration of life on other planets has always held the possibility of encountering a hostile species. Many movies have depicted monstrous creatures that seem to have a malevolent streak and are hell-bent on destroying the intruders that disturbed them and/or invaded their home. Some move in the shadows, only fully revealing themselves nearer the end; others have various camouflaging abilities that allow them to hide in plain sight. But the bottom line is always the same: these things pose an imminent threat to humanity and must be eliminated before they can obliterate our Earthly existence. Life has isolated its threat in space and they aim to keep it there.
The first samples from Mars are finally available for analysis. Amongst the scorched red sand the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) discover a living microorganism — the first proof of life on another planet. The team’s skills range from science to risk management to aviation, but they are all fascinated by the specimen. Utilizing a controlled environment, they observe and interact with the rapidly evolving creature… though its exponential growth and intelligence begins to make some of them somewhat anxious. However, a minor breach in protocol starts an irreversible chain reaction that leaves the six-person crew fighting for their lives and the fate of humanity.
The crew is globally representative, consisting of the type of quick-witted, courageous astronauts one expects to be selected for such a monumental mission. Russian cosmonaut Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) is the crew’s fierce commander. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is a geneticist and the scientist in charge of analyzing the alien creature, which makes his attachment to it the greatest. Interestingly, he’s also a paraplegic and consequently the most grateful for the lack of gravity. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) is on loan from the Centers for Disease Control, and is tasked with keeping the crew safe and the specimen contained. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the mission’s doctor and is starting to show the effects of being in space for a record 473 days. Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) is a pilot and the mission’s spacewalk specialist, i.e. a space cowboy. And Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) is the flight engineer and the crew’s elder statesman.
Although it’s unknown how long they’ve been orbiting together, they’ve clearly grown very close during their stay in the world’s most expensive home. In addition to being well-casted for their respective roles, their training for simulated zero G really pays off since it’s nearly impossible to detect they were suspended from wires while moving through the ISS. This element adds to the film’s authenticity and makes for some interesting action sequences as they race to escape the alien predator.
The creature begins as a microscopic, single-cell organism that gradually multiplies into a cute, plant-shaped being curious about its environment and assessor. As it continues to grow, it becomes less timid and more hyperaware. The thing that stalks the crew for sustenance looks as if the genes of a starfish, jellyfish and octopus were spliced together and then the translucent, malleable, aggressive product was given steroids to accelerate its growth. Moreover, the bigger it gets, the more sinister its feature-less face appears. It moves with nearly impossible speed and exhibits exceptional strength, all of which make it a formidable challenger for top of the food chain.
The narrative and parts of its aesthetic call to mind Alien (obviously), The Thing and, more recently, Gravity. The first two sci-fi classics have similar themes, including a tight-knit group of characters trying to survive — at least long enough to keep the deadly monster from reaching a larger population. The quality of the scenes inside and outside the ISS feels inspired by the striking aesthetics of the third film, creating a realistic depiction of life in the floating ship.
Realism is actually a very intentional element of the film. Director Daniel Espinosa was determined to make a movie that included practical responses to an unreal but plausible situation. Therefore there aren’t any real Hail Mary efforts to save/protect the crew — there are protocols, backup plans and a little ingenuity, but that’s it. Thus the final attempt to satisfactorily end the threat is not unforeseen, yet it still manages to deliver a somewhat unexpected conclusion.
Without trying to do too much, the film remains a solid sci-fi piece that builds intensity from the moment the alien organism shows the first sign of movement and maintains it until the final seconds of climactic conclusion. And even though it includes a few cliché plot devices and generally remains within the genre’s conventions, it all works very well together.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds
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