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LIFE - Review - We Are Movie Geeks

Review

LIFE – Review

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David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) in Columbia Pictures' LIFE.Courtesy of Sony Pictures. © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) in Columbia Pictures’ LIFE.Courtesy of Sony Pictures. © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The science fiction/horror film LIFE sends a team of astronauts to Mars on a mission to retrieve a robotic capsule containing what may be the first life form found on Mars. They are supposed to analyze this single cell, in the safety of space, but everyone who saw the movie ALIEN knows collecting extraterrestrial life forms is risky business.

So we are already braced for a scary ride when the little organism they name Calvin turns out to be less cute than it seems, despite reaching out a finger-like appendage a la ET. The accomplished NASA crew on this interstellar mission is an international mix of scientists and specialists, mostly with multiple skill sets. The six crew members include physician/pilot/seasoned space veteran David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), hotshot engineer/spacewalk pro Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), physician/safety officer Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), pilot/engineer Sho Murkami (Hiroyuki Sanada), exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), and commanding officer Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya). The multinational crew fits the international nature of the space mission to Mars, as well as giving the film extra global appeal.

Not surprisingly, there are some parallels to the original ALIEN but both the nature of the crew and the location make some significant differences in this thriller, This crew in LIFE are all NASA astronauts – polished, highly educated, the best-of-the-best – versus ALIEN’s more rough-edged, even working-class, commercial mining crew – the difference between a spit-and-polish, Navy battleship and a rusty commercial container ship. The other difference is the distance from Earth. ALIEN’s Nostromo is far out in distant space, LIFE’s space ship is orbiting just above Earth.

Director Daniel Espinosa does a terrific job getting us to terrifying in short order, and LIFE quickly looks like it will be a top-notch nail-biter. There is suspense and action, and some gruesome moments with a few images that may stick with you. The action takes place in the cramped quarters of the space ship, where the claustrophobic will feel the pressure, and the vast, hostile emptiness of space just outside. The director makes good use of both to build up the dynamics.

But once the audience is hooked, the director sometimes lets the fishing line to terror slacken a bit. Problems develop, not just for the beleaguered crew, but periodically in maintaining the dramatic tensions and suspension of disbelief. When the pace drops or events start to run in circles, we begin to notice the flaws in logic or when crew members do things that do not make much sense. Then director Espinosa gets the action rolling again, tensions pick up and we are back in the terror. Mostly, the film keeps us in its horror grip but when the pace slacks this way, the film loses its grip on suspense. Particularly in the film’s final sequence, a quicker pace would give the audience less time to think and figure things out. Too-slow pacing really hurts the film’s ending.

The actors do a fine job in this film, but there is little time for character development. Ryan Reynolds manages to quickly carve out a macho comic persona and Jake Gyllenhaal works to make his wistful doctor, who has spent a bit too much time in space, connect with the audience. But others in the fine cast, notably Sanada, do not really get the space to make the most of their parts. Too many characters and the different accents get in the way as well, but really, the horror and suspense are what the audience wants here anyway.

The visual effects are excellent, and the claustrophobic nature of the spaceship helps boost the mood. The creature grows and evolves as the story unfolds, but generally takes the shape of a semi-transparent jellyfish/starfish/octopus – eventually with a sinister face. The filmmakers deserve credit for departing from the giant alien form, and going in a new terror-inducing direction.

Overall, LIFE is a a good science fiction/horror film, leaning more to the latter, even if there are a few times when it is a bit too transparent.

RATING: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

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