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FILM REVIEW: LIFE Keeps Space Thriller Alive

FILM REVIEW: LIFE Keeps Space Thriller Alive

In space nobody can hear you scream, but many film critics can be heard screeching in horror at the prospect of yet another space/alien horror thriller. Since at least Alien, the genre has had plenty entries to fill a galaxy, and the sight alone of the trailer of the upcoming contestant, Life, was enough to send chills down my spine.

Behold my surprise when I discovered that the film, headlined by Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, is not half bad. Neither the story nor its gimmicks are particularly novel or innovative. A space mission is boarded by a strange life form, whose survival depends on their extinction. Although at first frustratingly low on preambles, one soon realizes that it explanations are not needed here and that talks of “protocols” and “breaches” distract from what really brought you here. In any case, if you are curious about backstory, there probably will be a sequel, or all the characters will be annihilated, so who cares?

Like lambs to the slaughter (or should I say like members of the Nostromo?) the crew members begin to succumb to the extraneous but enlarging mysterious life form predictably enough. There are blow torches, chase scenes, and lots of trap doors closing just in the nick of time. None of it is particularly new and yet it remains somehow magnificently compelling, at least for the abbreviated runtime.

The key issue that these movies always have to grapple with is how ridiculous the monster will be, how believably the characters will be portrayed, and how the effects will wrap it all up. In Life, it turns out, all elements work sufficiently in tandem, aided perhaps by the always stunning cinematography by Seamus MacGarvey (Atonement), or the careful direction of Daniel Espinosa.

Rebecca Ferguson, who we recently saw on Girl on the Train, rounds out a pretty solid cast, though Ryan Reynolds as the amusing prankster is horribly out of space in the otherwise grave atmosphere of the International Space Station. Thankfully (SPOILERS), Reynolds’ character is the first to go, leaving space for actors much more adept at various movie types, including Gyllenhaal and Ferguson.

You also know that most of these actors—if not all—are not long for this Earth (or this universe, as the case may be). The only question is where or how the twist will arrive, what the ultimate ploy will be. When it arrives towards the last moments of Life, you may be slightly expecting it, but it is still creatively executed enough to keep you gripping your seat.

Assuredly to be described by every single other review you’ll read out there as a combination of Alien and Gravity, if the shoe fits…Despite those obvious comparisons, and its almost purposeful lack of originality, the movie Life is rescued from deep space by its cool effects, two or three extremely creepy sequences, and just enough scares. All combine to make this not the most memorable movie but certainly a greatly entertaining one.

Life will be in theaters March 24.

 

Grade: B

About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online, has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age, and has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film 'The Lost Weekend' is pure coincidence

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