Film Review: LIFE (USA 2017) ***1/2

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life.jpgDirector: Daniel Espinosa
Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds

Review by Gilbert Seah

LIFE is a new science fiction horror film directed by Daniel Espinosa, written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who both penned DEADPOOL and ZOMBIELAND) and starring two of Hollywood’s hottest stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan and Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams. The two are part of a six-member eclectic crew of the International Space Station that uncovers what initially seems to be the first evidence of life on Mars.

LIFE is the scariest horror film so far this year. Espinosa and his writing crew know how to shock people with genuine scares, not using silly tactics like false alarms and the volume of the sound suddenly for no reason going three times as loud. The film is set in space. Space is an unknown entity to human beings. Anything can happen in space. The sight of space with little light and vast endless openness is in itself the scariest notion ever.

The film begins with voiceover and scenes describing an international space station. The film is totally successful in grabbing and maintaining the audience’s attention. Everyone has to listen and pay full attention – or some important fact will be missed. The first thrill of the film involves the capture of a space probe returning from Mars with a sample inside. This task is obviously successful (so no spoiler alert here). The crew is tasked with studying the sample, which may be the first proof of extraterrestrial life. However, the study eventually backfires as the organism displays incredible strength and gains intelligence. The creature becoming extremely hostile and killing them all one by one. Ariyon Bakare’s Hugh Derry is the first casualty in a segment where his pain is matched only by his screaming. Trapped aboard the ISS with the rapidly-growing organism humorously nicknamed Calvin, the crew must find out how to kill it before it manages to escape and destroy Earth.

There are two things going for this horror film – unpredictability and suspense build-up. Director Espinosa builds his film slowly but effectively to a horrifying climax. He knows how to create real terror. The segments in which the victim are attacked by the creature are almost impossible to watch, with the creature’s tentacles entering the mouths of its victims. These start occurring after the first half of the fpm right up to the very end. A little spoiler alert here – anyone of the crew could be done away with. Don’t be fooled by the star billing.

At times, the film feels like other space horror films like John Carpenter’s THE THING or Ridley Scott’s ALIEN films. But LIFE tries and succeeds to be different. For one the ending is totally unpredictable. But one has to probably discuss what actually happened as an explanation is not crystal clear and could be open to different interpretations.

Ridley Scott’s new ALIEN reboot (ALIEN: COVENANT) arrives in a few months.

How it will compare to Calvin is the anticipatory question.



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