Nick Cabelli for Cinetalk.net
Life is an R-rated science fiction movie, with elements of action, horror and melodrama directed by Daniel Espinosa (who?) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Donny Darko, Nightcrawler), Rebecca Ferguson (The Girl on the Train, Mission:Impossible) and Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, Van Wilder). Written by the people behind Deadpool—a film whose success is the biggest reason why there are suddenly big budget R-rated genre films coming out of America—Life starts with a promising premise and timeless sci-fi trope, a crew of astronauts investigating alien life on the claustrophobic International Space Station. Life has a strong first act with tension, humour, visual spectacle, brooding doom and doom delivered. Unfortunately, the film collapses into a staid and senseless run-from-the-monster-in-the-haunted-house flick where everything unique and special set up in the first act is forgotten—or worse: contradicted—for the sake of expediently filming some people being chased around by the monster until the movie ends.
The wafer-thin plot which is little more than a generic description of the plot of Alien or Die-Hard is populated with one-dimensional, self-narrating characters who stupidly react to circumstances without ever really intervening, spending all their time running and reacting to the monster but never really acting like the scientists, doctors and air-force veterans their characters proclaim to be. The helicopter pilots, cooks and orderlies of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) practice a stricter scientific protocol than the so-called scientists in Life. Plot ‘twists’ are so telegraphed that they ultimately reveal an Austin Powers level of camp. Leaving the theater one has the sensation of a squandered opportunity
Life never fully decides what kind of film it wants to be. Is it horror? Horrible things happen, but then stop. Is it an adventure? Its dark and brooding conclusion gleefully toys with expectations, but in such a telegraphed manner as it almost be satire. Life seeks to be equally inspired by the claustrophobia and isolation of Alien and The Thing and the big-budget feel-good sci-fi spectacle of Gravity and The Martian, also hinting briefly (far too briefly) at the self-aware irony of The Cabin in the Woods and Deadpool, (or maybe that’s my postmodern coping mechanism for such a promising start to turn to such schlock right before your eyes). Emotional disconnect is endemic to the cardboard characters, especially in the back half of the film where emotional moments are awkward and arbitrary. The result is a tone deaf muddled mess: when characters are crying, we laugh.
If I’m being hard on Life, it is because parts of it are quite good. The world needs more R-rated sci-fi, and Life has moments of gritty horror and fascinating science fiction in a stunning claustrophobic (and agoraphobic) environment. Ultimately the film’s most salient message might be that writers’ pedigree, performers’ starpower or sparkly CGI cannot make up for a flimsy script. What starts like a monument to terror in space ends like an instantly forgettable mid-2000s M. Night Shyamalan film you can’t even remember the title to. What could have been epochal with a few more ideas is rendered all the more disappointing for its lazy listlessness.
The first act of Life however, a tightly-paced and tense thirty minutes or so culminating in a thrilling scene where it earns most of its R-rating, almost makes up for the forgettable and often silly plot which follows.