A great name for a breakfast cereal. Works for the board game, too.
But for a science fiction horror movie? Not so much.
And the title is the least of this movie’s problems.
LIFE (2017) takes place aboard a space station where six astronauts make the remarkable discovery of the first extraterrestrial life form, and this occurs before the opening credits. This life form starts off as a single cell organism but quickly grows, and the next thing the scientists know, the thing escapes, and it’s none too friendly.
Hmm. A deadly alien creature loose aboard a space station terrorizing its occupants? Sound familiar? Of course it does! And while it would be unfair to completely dismiss this movie as a straight clone of ALIEN (1979), because there are differences— LIFE takes place on a space station orbiting Earth, while ALIEN took place on a space ship in deep space, for instance— it’s similar enough to draw comparisons, which doesn’t do it any favors since LIFE is vastly inferior to ALIEN.
So, this deadly organism which is both incredibly strong and smart, sets its sights on picking off the crew one by one. The crew see it as their mission to either destroy the creature or at the very least, make sure it never makes it to Earth. Easier said than done. And just why is this creature killing people? Well, according to the scientists, it’s not because it hates people, but because it’s simply trying to survive. It also has the nasty habit of entering people’s bodies, and when it exits after killing the person, it’s bigger, so I can only guess that it’s consuming the person’s innards, although this is never made clear in the movie. Perhaps it’s killing people because it fears for its own life, although it became aggressive first before it was ever attacked. Of course, it might have simply seen humans as a threat. Or perhaps it just likes to kill. Why am I offering all these guesses? Because the film never really says.
One of the reasons I wasn’t all that excited about LIFE was I had seen the trailer multiple times and it seemed to give away a lot of the movie and it also made it seem like a dull clone of the movie ALIEN. So, I felt somewhat optimistic when about 2/3 of what was shown in the movie’s trailer occurs in the opening moments of the movie, before the opening credits. I thought, maybe there are some decent surprises ahead.
Alas, the only surprise was that a certain prominent cast member didn’t survive in this movie for very long.
The screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick doesn’t create any memorable or interesting characters, nor does it provide for a compelling story. We hardly get to know any of the characters, and when their lives were in danger, I simply didn’t care all that much.
The idea of finding the first extraterrestrial life form isn’t handled with any sense of grandness or awe, and the actual creature didn’t impress me, either. Unlike the Alien in ALIEN, we learn very little about this creature. It looks okay, but it’s hardly terrifying.
The film also really struggles to build any decent suspense. Late in the movie, when all hell is breaking loose, we get to see Jake Gyllenhaal’s character deal with his fear by reading the children’s book Goodnight, Moon. Oooh, scary!
Reese and Wernick are the guys who wrote the screenplay for DEADPOOL (2016) and ZOMBIELAND (2009), two films I liked a lot. But they also wrote G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013), a film I didn’t like. Where does LIFE fall? Let’s put it this way. LIFE is no DEADPOOL.
The cast is largely wasted because none of their characters are developed. Jake Gyllenhaal plays astronaut David Jordan, and he’s probably the character we learn the most about. For instance, we learn that he’s about to break the record for the most days spent in space by a person, and we learn that he prefers it in space, as he is rather disillusioned with the world below. Yet, unlike another disillusioned astronaut, George Taylor (Charlton Heston) from the classic movie PLANET OF THE APES (1968), David Jordan doesn’t get to have his beliefs challenged by a society more barbaric than the one he left behind, nor does he even get to be in the forefront of his own movie. He’s just one of the six on board the space station, going through the motions of being chased by an alien.
The other lead belongs to Rebecca Ferguson who plays astronaut Miranda North, and she’s pretty much in charge of security. It’s not one of Miranda’s better days. We learn very little about this character, and Ferguson doesn’t really get to do much with the role.
The other big name in the film is Ryan Reynolds, and he plays Rory Adams. Likewise, his talents are also largely wasted in a very underdeveloped character. Rounding out the cast of space station astronauts are Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami, Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina, and Ariyon Bakare as Hugh Derry. Their roles are pretty much cardboard cutouts of scared astronauts on board a space station terrorized by a deadly alien.
LIFE was directed by Daniel Espinosa, who also directed the action film SAFE HOUSE (2012) starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, another film I wasn’t all that crazy about. LIFE is very similar in terms of quality: it’s okay, but at the end of the day it’s nothing all that special.
The opening shot in LIFE of the space station emerging from the darkness just outside Earth’s orbit is a good one and is probably the most cinematic shot of the whole film. If only there were more shots like this.
The scenes of suspense and horror just aren’t all that intense, and I really didn’t find LIFE scary at all. Part of the problem here is the alien creature really isn’t very frightening. And none of the astronauts’ deaths are all that horrific, save for one, and even this scene pales in comparison to say the alien bursting out of John Hurt’s chest in ALIEN.
The pacing is off, and I found the film rather slow. As the movie went along, the suspense sadly did not build. Like I said, in a key moment near the end, Jake Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan pulls out Goodnight Moon and starts reading. It’s supposed to be a poignant and terrifying moment, but I took it for what it was: main character reads from a children’s book when frightened by the alien monster. Imagine if in PLANET OF THE APES Charlton Heston, rather than screaming, “Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” quoted Mother Goose. Something tells me it just wouldn’t have been the same.
LIFE is a mediocre science fiction horror movie. It’s not all that awe-inspiring, so don’t expect anything deep like ARRIVAL (2016), and it’s certainly not all that scary, so don’t expect ALIEN. Instead, in terms of quality, it reminded me of another flawed science fiction film which came out last year, PASSENGERS (2016) with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, only LIFE has an extra passenger, a murderous alien life form. Not that it matters much. LIFE is just as dull as PASSENGERS was.
Yup, at the end of the day, LIFE is pretty lifeless.