By David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
In the near future, the crew on the International Space Station successfully catch a returning space probe containing a sample from Mars. They study it and find a specimen that proves there is life beyond Earth. As the study continues however, the specimen, nicknamed Calvin, begins to grow stronger and more intelligent. Quite suddenly it becomes hostile, threatening the lives of the crew and potentially the entire human race.
While it cribs and homages science fiction/horror classics like Gravity, Alien, Predator and John Carpenter’s The Thing, Life still manages to be thrilling entertainment. The Film begins innocuously enough, showing how exciting and mundane life can be for the crew. But once Calvin starts attacking them, the Film’s pacing amps up considerably – slowing down to breathe only for a few brief moments at a time. It becomes a bit predictable in some instances, but Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick take great delight in putting this small cast through hell and back as they struggle to survive against the unknown alien threat. I sat absolutely breathless through some of the action scenes (even one completely incomprehensible sequence), anxiously waiting to see what happened next. I was also very impressed by the number of “uncut” zero gravity shots Director Daniel Espinosa drops into the Film, each more spectacular than the next.
For all of these enjoyable elements, my main issue with Life is that it is loaded with inconsistencies. Character details are given, but serve no greater purpose in the story. Ideas are introduced and then abandoned or recklessly revised on the fly. Gifted actors like Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and rising star Rebecca Ferguson are nearly wasted in criminally underwritten roles. While these issues may be the result of scenes being deleted from the final Film, it does not explain why the story progresses with a hell-bent slant on contradicting itself constantly. Worse, much like the Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence-starring Passengers this past December, the technology and ship features the crew uses are more interesting than any part of the story.
While I admire Life hitting theatres without a 3D conversion, I found the special effects to be among the most uneven in recent memory. The early scenes of Calvin growing and interacting with the crew are astonishing and almost terrifying in how life-like they appear. But the later scenes when it evolves into a monstrous octopus/blob creature look so fake that it almost took me out of the Film entirely.
There is a lot of potential packed within Life, but so much of the Film feels like a missed opportunity. For all the thrills and entertainment value, I was left disappointed by the storyline and the near waste of a great cast. While there is some fun to be had with the turns the plot of this killer alien Movie takes, I feel like it could have been much stronger.
And for those who read too much Internet gossip, there is absolutely no connection between Life and the new Venom Film being developed for next November. Just another crazy Internet rumour!
Sony Pictures Canada release LIFE on Friday, March 24, 2017.