Opening on the vast expanses of space when your story depends solely on differentiating yourself from the horror classic Alien, filmmaker Daniel Espinosa struggles to set off on the right foot. His story of extra-terrestrial life exerting their powers over the six-man crew of a small explorer ship is not an original concept, nor does it need to be. With the right notes and tricks, Life can be something far better than barrel-scraping sci-fi horror. What could have been. We dare not wonder, for like the astronauts we may not reach much higher without the power of NASA. With the right blend of attitudes and atmosphere, there would have been life to Life, instead, the shoddy recriminations of the sensational six aboard the cramped spacecraft turn sour and bitter.
Where Alien blended the longstanding troubles between crewmates as a passing inevitability of close confinement, Life tries extraordinarily hard to make its characters (and camera) completely weightless. They have defined, unmoving relationships with one another. Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson are our leading trio, but we do not spend much time with them before their agenda takes a turn for the worse. We are given a few minutes with them, but no minutes knowing them. All we are given is that they are heroes because they are in space, journeying into the far beyond to discover bacteria and cells. You’d think these technologically advanced heroes would have better communication with the outside world than Skype.
What a shame it is that for all the flighty, somewhat impressive camerawork Espinosa displays, nothing of any interest is happening. His camera flows through the spacecraft, the lack of gravity utilised as an asset, rather than a detriment to his style. While he has worked hard to craft some semblance of effective technical merit, it falls to pieces when all he can display are novel science-fiction tropes. Low gravity, rats and test tubes, extreme close-ups of eyes staring into lenses. What good comes of it? Not much. “This is some Re-Animator shit,” Rory (Reynolds) quips. It’d probably be a tad funnier if the audience had any reason to think that for themselves, but they do not. Cell revitalisation is a far stretch different to the body horror, shlock and gore present in the Stuart Gordon masterclass. Still, anything to tie Life to the genre it tries to shove its way into.
Rather than putting the hard work in, this cast and crew hope to coast off of the sci-fi pieces that came before it. A toothless riff on Alien without the cast to hold it together nor the merit to mark itself out as a striking piece or engaging experience. Who’d have thought Life could be so lifeless? Considering how closely it follows along the path of the Ridley Scott classic, there is, at the very least, the bleak and brief perception that this could indeed be more than miserable. How foolish we are to consider such quality could come from the mind and mouth of a director who hopes his proximity to the great horrors of the past generation are enough to cater to lacking characters, whose emotional range and interest is as filled as the empty voids of space.