By Chris Ranta
Despite a new Alien film looming on the horizon, director Daniel Espinosa (Child 44, Safe House) has made Life, his own sci-fi horror film. Sadly not based on the classic board game, the film follows the classic format set by Ridley Scott nearly 40 years ago as six astronauts (led by Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds) discover life on Mars that eventually terrorizes them. While it’s fun without breaking any new ground in the genre, the film suffers from some severe issues.
The major highlight of Life is the cinematography. While having some lovely visual nods to classic films of the genre such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Gravity, Seamus McGarvey (who also shot last year’s Nocturnal Animals) still manages to make the film to stand out on its own visually. His camerawork is consistently fluid, dynamic and striking throughout. Through this, he gives the film a strong sense of isolation and tension, similar to that seen in Gravity and 2001 that can’t be created in any other way. Jon Ekstrand’s score compliments the film in a similar fashion. While it can be overbearing at points, it commands a menacing tone. It also helps provide anxiety throughout, which works well for the most part. That tension does fall short at times thanks to some jump scares every now and then, but it’s effective more often than not, and makes the film a lot of fun to watch once the action starts.
The performances are mostly as good as expected, with the standouts being the leads. Gyllenhaal is great as always, Ferguson commands the screen with her presence, and Reynolds is his same witty self in a rather brief appearance as the standard comic relief of the film. Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dykhovichnaya and Ariyon Bakare are fine as the main supporting cast, but they aren’t given as much to do. Dykhovichnaya and Bakare are merely there to provide exposition while Sanada is merely there to provide an emotional core that feels rather forced. The performances are all good even if the characters aren’t well fleshed out.
While it is rather fun, Life ultimately suffers at the hands of its screenplay. Fresh off of the success of Deadpool, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick could have easily written something a lot stronger. Early on in the film, Gyllenhaal’s character, David, says that he doesn’t want to go back to Earth because of how cruel and selfish humans are, especially in combat. While this could’ve set up a fascinating commentary on human nature and the extent to which one should resort to brutality, Reese and Wernick abandon it completely. They also resort to expository dialogue more than they show with plot progression and storytelling, which is incredibly frustrating especially in scenes where a visual cue appears on screen and is followed by exposition. Not only is this insulting the audience by spoon-feeding information, but it also feels pointless and redundant. If you have the visual cue, why explain it? There are also some plot holes, especially towards the end. If the screenplay was better written, the film would definitely improve as a result.
The film continues to suffer thanks to an absurd overabundance of CGI. The aliens, the blood, some shots of a mouse and more are all done digitally and do not look convincing at all. It will likely take people out of the film, thereby killing the suspense and fun of those moments. It also suffers at the hands of its pacing and length. There isn’t enough substance to last the film’s 103-minute runtime, and it really shows towards the beginning of the third act. It slows down to the point of becoming bland and unengaging.
Life is an Alien clone in every sense possible, but it never tries to be more than that, which is fine—to a fault. The cinematography and score steal the show, and the performances are all solid, even if the characters aren’t interesting. The biggest issues are the highly flawed screenplay, the CGI, and the pacing as well as length. Maybe if the film was sharper and had more to say it would be worth going out to see.
(Featured Image: Life, Sony)