Review: The first thing Life has successfully proven is: space horror is still helluva sub-genre. While most space-themed films recently focus on breaking more grounds with cerebral sci-fi euphoria, Daniel Espinosa’s latest feature confidently takes a retro influence to remind us of that notion.
Life opens with approx. 7-minute continuous shot (that suddenly reminds me to Gravity’s opening) revolving around the space-life of 6 crew members of ISS, who at one night make the greatest breakthrough in humanity’s space voyage history: an organic evidence of extraterrestrial form in Mars. The alien being, at first, seems hazardless as a single-cell form; but, then some conditionings ‘awake’ the creature – dubbed as Calvin – to its incredible form: all cells are muscular, neural and photoreceptive – or simply, all cells are muscle, brain, and eyes at once. While the whole world is awe-struck, a noob-mistake in the space station lab triggers a butterfly effect that leads to what I’ve mentioned previously: space horror.
Kicking off as a smart sci-fi heavy (pseudo) cerebral sci-fi, Life swiftly shifts into a claustrophobic space horror, which immediately reminds me to Ridley Scott’s Alien. What came off as humanity’s grand discovery uncontrollably turns into a killing machine; and the whole ISS is its killing field. Ironically, this behavior is simply Calvin’s sole purpose of life – to survive; it is an instant parasitic killer with astonishing adaptation ability. Its existence alone is one reason living in space is a horror experience; the other reasons simply deals with human’s limited survival and adaptive skills as we can see in 6 crews of the station – 6 most brilliant people in their jobs.
In contrast with the Martian, those human characters aren’t as simple as that; they have purposes, dreams and aptitudes in space. And, thanks to Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script; all characters are as important. If you’re biased to some characters, there must be a product of the A-list factor. In fact, every character has important roles and reason to survive. For instance, Ariyon Bakare’s Hugh Derry, the lead scientist, is a man with disability which requires him to use wheelchair in zero-gravity; but, in space, he’s a normal man who needs no wheelchair and he’s the only one who understands Calvin’s behavior. Hugh is a product of a dream and this discovery is his purpose of life. Hiroyuki Sanada’s Sho Murakami misses his child’s birth to be in this mission; meanwhile, Olga Dihovichnaya’s Ekaterina Golovkina is the commander who’s eager to ensure the mission’s completeness. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds have all those things I mentioned previously: purposes, dreams and aptitudes in space.
While those human dramas add some layers to the story, the real deal in Life is: their descent into fear and mistakes by mistakes, which endanger their lives. Calvin might be the alpha-nemesis, but, fear really is death to those people becomes. From straight genius, those brilliant mind suddenly becomes undisciplined dumbs; and that’s how Life supply us with minutes of taut thriller and horror for the last final hour until that glorified ending.
In the execution, Life offers nothing new. The horror is almost like a direct breed of Alien’s xenomorph; meanwhile, the cinematic experience is almost like Gravity 2.0. Even, the ending might remind you to some acclaimed horror ending – with space trick, of course. However, Espinosa digs into his repertoire quite fluently crafting tension by tension and confidently tortures audiences with relentless terror, which makes you wish it will end soon.
In the end, Daniel Espinosa is able to make sure that his star-studded Life is a new breed of space horror that has all the agenda to terrify you into thinking again about living in space… with extraterrestrial form. Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant should be prepared to be more terrifying than this.