Saturday 25 March 2017

Film Review: Life

A team of astronauts aboard the International Space Station find themselves trapped and terrorised by a mysterious extraterrestrial being.

Life sees Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson lead a team of ISS scientists as they desperately wrangle with putting an end to the vicious alien creature captured from a Martian probe, all whilst ensuring that it doesn't find a way to journey to Earth.

Right from the get-go, the comparisons to Ridley Scott's Alien are right there staring you in the face with Daniel Espinosa's Life. After all, both are claustrophobic sci-fi horror/thrillers about rapidly evolving alien creatures tearing through a dark and confined ship or space station, slowly picking one off crew member after crew member. Whilst those parallels are plain as day and make Life easy to disregard as sloppy seconds (after all, who could possibly top Scott's 70s masterpiece?), only an idiot would allow them to dissuade them from giving Life a chance.

Why? Because this film is a whole lot better than I had been anticipating. It certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does apply a fresh coat of varnish to said wheel to make it nice and shiny again. Life is both familiar genre territory that sticks to the hymn sheet and filled with subversions and twists, which when coupled with a tight script, talented cast and a killer ending, makes this a hard film to not recommend, especially to those who go gooey over sci-fi, horror or anything filled with squelchy monsters.

Without giving too much away (you're better off knowing as little as possible, trust me), Life is a tightly-packaged thrill ride that throws some genuine curveballs at the audience, all whilst adhering to a strict template they'll recognise; astronauts find mysterious alien being, it gets loose, wrecks havoc and threatens to kill everyone. It's the perfect middle ground; simple, stripped back, shit-your-pants scary and genuinely surprising on occasion.

The cast are each great in their own way; Reynolds essentially plays his usual cocksure self, Ferguson is the 'all business' badass, Hiroyuki Sanada is the kindly family man and so on. The only person who doesn't get an awful lot to work with is Gyllenhaal; his role has a few interesting angles to it but essentially it doesn't transpire into much, which is a shame for an actor of his calibre.

In terms of technical elements, Life is commendable across the board; Espinosa does a great job of capturing that claustrophobic feel of the tight ship confines and the score helps build that thick, tense atmosphere. Also the creature design is a cut above the usual crop of generic splodges or bipedal monsters; it's not a patch on Giger's iconic xenomorph but it certainly is a memorable (and terrifying) creature that poses an immediately dangerous threat to all around it.

The Verdict: 7.5/10

Sort of like Alien crossed with Gravity, Life crafts a thick envelope of skin-crawling tension before revealing a gut-punch of a third act that demands to be witnessed as fresh as possible. Give it a crack and let the chills get deep under your skin.

Life is in cinemas across Australia now.

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