Review: Life (2017)


Swedish director Daniel Espinosa helms this science-fiction/horror film that treads much of the same steps in space as films like Alien, but doesn’t add much new to the genre.

Horror in space can be a tricky proposition. On one hand, you have films like 1979’s Alien which nailed the claustrophobia inherent in the situation and created a slasher film in space. You can set your film in space and give it an otherwordly feel like Event Horizon. Or you can take a hard science fiction angle to ground your story and then create a horror element from that. A notable example of this would be Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. Life is an example of this kind of horror/sci fi film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer much new to the genre and falls into the trap of more of the same.

Life concerns an international space station effort tasked with the capture of a space probe returning from Mars with a soil sample. The ISS is built as a giant lab to stuffy the samples from Mars, which include the first proof of life outside Earth; a multi-celled organism named Calvin by a school class on Earth. The crew, including an exobiologist named Hugh (Ariyon Bakare), pilot Rory (Ryan Reynolds), system engineer Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada), medical officer David (Jake Gyllenhaal), and quarantine officer Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), quickly realizes that Calvin is growing and its structure is all muscle, eye and brain. An accident unleashes Calvin from its controlled environment and soon the crew is playing hide and seek from a creature turned enemy.

Life has a lot of issues, not the least of which is its nigh-omniscient villain in Calvin, who always knows exactly what the clue is doing to plan to stop him just as they try to do so. It suffers from predicatable beats, which really undercuts any tension the film tries to build. Its mainly the film’s strong performances, especially from Reynolds, Gyllenhaal, and Ferguson, that keep the film from lapsing into B-movie territory. Ferguson and Gyllenhaal in particular have strong chemistry and all their scenes together work. The cinematography in the film is also very well-done as the ship has no gravity and the efforts taken to showcase zero gravity really work well on screen. The start of the movie features a very clever unbroken long shot as the crew captures the Mars samples that belongs straight out of a Kubrick film. 2001: A Space Odyssey really informs the visual language of this film and its too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t match its visuals. However, the other issue stems from this similarity to other films. Life just doesn’t stand out; at best, it feels like an episode of The Outer Limits. Hiroyuki Sanada plays a character almost identical to the one he plays in Sunshine, which is very similar to this film, a sci-fi horror film that only happens because of smart people making stupid decisions.


Life doesn’t offend, but it neither stands out or suffers from being terrible. It’s just there and with films on deck for 2017 like Alien: Covenant, it really needed to offer something more than being Alien-lite beyond a few strong performances and all-too-familiar beats from well-known films.