When I saw the trailer for “Life”, I was intrigued. Despite my normal reluctance to see anything dark (I’m a total wimp), this made me want to make an exception. It is billed as a science fiction thriller which made me curious enough to check it out. I’m really glad I did. “Life” begins with a group of six astronauts aboard the International Space Station, orbiting Earth. They are attempting to retrieve samples from a Mars probe but the capsule was damaged on its journey back to Earth so they have to pull it in manually. Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the engineer, heads outside the station to catch the probe with a grappling arm. Kat, (Olga Dihovichnaya) their captain guides him while Sho Kendo (HiRoryuki Sanada) keeps the station on target. Once they have the samples recovered, they begin studying them.
Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), the main scientist, discovers that the sample contains a large single-celled organism. The new life is dubbed Calvin by a elementary school viewing the events and while Hugh studies it, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) works to keep the newly discovered life-form quarantined, planning for the worst case scenario. We are also introduced to David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhal), their doctor and an ex-soldier happier in space than he ever was on Earth. As the crew conducts their research, things begin to go wrong and they quickly find out that things aren’t as they seem, as the life form turns out to be more intelligent than anyone ever expected. The crew must fight to keep the organism from taking over the station and prevent it from reaching Earth.
There’s a lot about this film that I loved. As I wrote, normally I don’t enjoy frightening films but this one proved the exception. One of the reasons for that was the writing. The movie begins with the crew capturing the capsule which pulls you into their world and gets your attention. Not only that but it allows the writer to introduce the viewer to the characters and gets you to invest emotionally into their lives. The tiny details are part of what makes this so good. Sho’s wife has a baby, Mei, back on earth. Kat gives him the book, Goodnight Moon. This gives you insight into her character (the book is her first introduction to space) and the book does double duty later in the film, as another character reads it in an especially poignant and heartbreaking scene as he comes to term with the fact that they may not survive. Goodbye, Moon.
The movie begins with a hopeful, optimistic view and slowly ramps up as one by one everything goes wrong. In addition to the slow build of tension, the writers also manage to change up some of the normal pattern of the genre. In this type of film, we know someone is going to die, possibly the entire crew. Without giving away who, I will say the first death was not who I expected and I was pleased by that change. The characters also behave in smart ways, always trying to be one step ahead of the creature and defeat it without allowing it onto Earth. While I won’t tell you if they succeed or fail, the actions they take keep me guessing. Another aspect of the movie that worked well was the construction of the set and the design of the creature. The set was smart and realistic. It was believable and everything on it looks modeled after pictures of the real space station. That level of authenticity along with the writing makes for a really engaging film. On top of that, the modeling of the life-form as it begins as a single cell and grows into a terrifying, creepy predator makes for edge of your seat viewing as the film goes increasingly darker the more you see of this deadly threat. That is truly the brilliance of this film as it leaves to your imagination exactly what will happen if this creature gets to Earth in a truly horrifying ending.
The actors are incredible, each one making me empathize for them as they study this new life and then battle to keep it from destroying them or Earth. Ryan Reynolds is both funny and emotional as he tells one of his crew mates that they need to live. Rebecca Ferguson is brilliant as the quarantine officer whose job is to contain any threat before it reaches humanity. Jake Gyllenhal’s acting is full of depth. None of the actors are extraneous, they are all important and the actors do a great job of showing us this. One of the other important note is that the crew is diverse, made up of different nationalities and races. That casting choice made this film even more realistic.
While the action is thrilling and there were some smart choices, the ending seemed a bit predictable and trite. There were a couple directions the filmmakers could have taken it but I would have liked to have been kept guessing right up until the end. Instead, both myself and my husband knew how it was going to play out. And while the monster was terrifying with the implications of what would happen if it makes it to Earth, this movie was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be based on the trailers. That might be because it’s a thriller but the trailers gave us the impression it was going to be a horror movie. I’m a horror wimp and I wasn’t that scared. I think it would have been even better if the terror effects had been ratcheted a bit higher.
Despite those observations, this movie was highly enjoyable. I was engaged in the story and the characters. I cared about each character and wanted to see what happened next. I loved the design of the station and the monster Calvin. For the genre, it is well written and the acting is both emotional and brilliant. It is worth watching, especially if you love science fiction and don’t mind the darker variety. If you’re looking for a smart science fiction film, this is worth watching.
Rating: 4 stars