Trying to come up with an original description to capture how much Life feels in terms of its lack of originality is already difficult because at the hands of other innovative science fiction films it feels absolutely worthless. Daniel Espinosa’s Life is another space-set horror film akin to Ridley Scott’s Alien but in the light of a new Alien film coming out later this year, what exactly are we to expect of a film supposedly taking its inspiration from those roots? Life feels like it’s eager to show how inspired by films of the sort but it has trouble even trying to stand out on its own. Inspired by Alien it may be, but that doesn’t change a distinctive feeling that it carries where it feels derivative, hindering it from leaving any sort of real impact afterwards. This isn’t the entertaining sort of Alien knockoff that anyone would have wanted to expect in this day and age, rather instead it’s just a boring experience if you already know its roots to the bone.
Like Alien, Life is set amidst a space station as a new form of life that does not come from Earth is found. Upon observation, this life form proves itself far more intelligent than suspected and begins killing crew members one by one, and thus our crew is left with no choice but to either kill it off or leave it out in space before it ends up entering our own atmosphere. There’s a line that can clearly be drawn between the two films and I wish it would have to be the last time that I even bring up Alien for as much as I would much rather watch said film again over Life, but unfortunately I can’t ever find myself shaking the feeling that it over-aspires to be said film without even having the guts to work so perfectly on its own. Gone are the days of innovative tension as brought to the table by a lack of knowledge about the environment coming around oneself, here comes a time where the rewards for capturing true fear are just drawn upon what we know deep down far too much – and soon all weight is lost.
Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese of Deadpool write the screenplay for this Daniel Espinosa directed science fiction film, and it’s quite mind-boggling to think about how on both of their ends something so clearly uninspired has come out. Whether it goes from a terrible sense of characterization or how the film works around creating tension, there’s nothing that feels surprising because the screenplay has a need to tell the audience far too much about details regarding how this mysterious life form works. During moments where we are focusing on the leading human characters, we barely even get enough time in order to latch onto them for they stick to one character trope before they meet their fates. The irony is present in how the film’s title is Life, and yet as a whole it feels like a lifeless product is what we are made to witness.
Occasionally there’s something more that the film tries to reach out for on a purely visual standpoint, but the majority of the time there’s never a real impact because even the images of outer space are still just uninspired altogether. The most intriguing aspect of Life is something that could have offered a whole lot more considering the manner to which it starts but as Calvin (a name given to the life form that they found) ends up growing larger, the design that it was given only underwhelms all the more. What’s perhaps even more frustrating about this part is how Calvin never seems to carry enough of a menacing presence after it makes its first kill, but instead it comes from the smaller stage of its growth. It’s something I find incredibly frustrating on the count that its growth is not only something the film feels a need to explain on every possible opportunity through showing so much of it, but because by the time it gets much bigger its appearance takes the form of a rather generic science fiction monster and loses its menacing presence.
I feel that if something else hindered the experience all the more for myself, it would be the fact that it never utilizes the claustrophobic environment it is set within to its fullest potential. There’s an occasionally good scare here and there, but it never runs all throughout like this sort of film would have done so had it been successful. Rather instead, its setting is one that seems to grow to a much bigger as Calvin continues finding ways to reach out at our protagonists but instead of tension comes a great feeling of emptiness. Even when it’s clear that the film is trying to reach out for a greater impact especially through a bleak ending, a mixed bag only came into my mind from there onward. On one hand, I was wondering how much did I find myself caring for what ever was going on during the space station because of how empty its characterization was, and how this attempt at a bleaker ending was indeed something I saw coming a long way back. I want to say I dig it because it fits with the context of the film but considering what else has come prior, it’s hard enough trying to back itself up there.
When you can feel so much of Gravity and Alien all throughout because you know their roots far too well, the sorts of joy that Life would present only fall even shorter. Some actors are doing their best with the roles that they have (Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson being standouts without question), and there are others who just feel like flat caricatures (Ariyon Bakare being the scientist who knows everything and Ryan Reynolds just being Ryan Reynolds) – but for a film called Life, it just feels so devoid of it because it can’t even find any of that by standing out on its own. Good scares may come while the ride still lasts but for the most part it’s an absolutely uninspired ride that only if ever feels present to highlight films that it was inspired by rather than offer the same joys on its own. To get a pun I tweeted out of the way, “Life is too valuable a thing to waste watching Life.”
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Screenplay by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Produced by David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 103 minutes