Cocktails & Movies Review: “Life” – A Lean, But Extremely Mean Thrill Ride
by Mike Reyes
While Life never truly digs into its characters or its environment, it’s really efficient at horrific visuals, stunning creature design, and delivering what’s essentially a living nightmare on crack.
If there’s any subject harder to talk about than life, I don’t know what it is. Though talking about the movie Life, not the abstract concept of existence, is a little easier to discuss. While Sony still has me gun shy to approach anything that resembles sci-fi from their production house, thanks to the horrific film I call Passengers, the pedigree of this project was enough to get me to sit down and watch it. While this is far from the movie I was really pulling for it to be, this film managed to be something rather entertaining, and in the darkest, most horrifying ways.
During an unprecedented mission aboard the International Space Station, a diverse crew of specialists discover the first signs of life on Mars. Of course, such discoveries come at a cost, and such a payment can only be made in blood. What the crew of the Pilgrim mission has awakened is fierce, deadly, and extremely intelligent. If they’re lucky, they might just stop it from getting to Earth.
I never had huge hopes for Life, the movie not the abstract concept of being of course. As much as I felt the film cast its leads effectively, and put together an ok at best trailer, I was prepared for a total garbage fire of a film. So imagine my surprise when Life managed to actually be a decent film. This isn’t to say that it’s a slam dunk, as there was a lot of problematic elements that hamper Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s story, as well as some questionable editing in the film’s third act. While the film’s not afraid to get downbeat and gory, it almost feels as if those are two of total set of three tricks the film has to play.
But considering how the buzz was automatically knocking this film as nothing more than an Alien rip off, I’d say that dismissal is quite unfair. While this film certainly does crib its fair share from Ridley Scott’s iconic sci-fi series, it does manage to also rip off Gravity to a good extent, particularly with Jake Gyllenhaal’s record breaking astronaut who really doesn’t want to go back to Earth. For as good as the central cast’s performances are in Life, they still can’t surmount the amount of stupid decisions these supposedly professional characters make. Apparently, they have “Fuck it!” embroidered on their crew patches, as that’s a frequent exclamation uttered by crew members about to do something stupid and reckless.
Yet for all of the story notes Life borrows, it infuses its extremely thin plot with an energy and pacing that most films forego in order to bog themselves down with useless exposition. While I could have used a little more time with the crew, and some more information about the shadowy operating committee that they worked for, I can’t say that Life wasn’t a fun film to get scare shitless with.
Stupidity aside, the creature known as “Calvin” is at times beautiful and absolutely horrific during its evolution. Its intelligence is matched only by its speed, which is something I still wish I could say about this movie, as it only really enforces the latter element. Yet as inept as the characters were, I never once rooted for this creature. It’s that threatening. Still, while people do extremely stupid things in Life, they do them fast and with conviction, which makes the ride smooth, despite its underdeveloped plot and characters.
While I really wanted more out of Life, it went into such corners of terror that I stared at the screen in horrified entertainment. There’s plenty of bone chilling stuff that packs the walls of this almost two hour panic attack, which goes so entertainingly dark with some aspects that it makes the safe playing story of the film even more of a disappointment. Sometimes, a movie just exists to be a distraction. As painful as it is to admit, sometimes a fluffy, easy to digest thrill ride is what the doctor orders.
Life definitely fits that bill to a tee, as it’s definitely a fun matinee that can keep you entertained for a short while, and doesn’t ask much of you. Think of it as an exercise to keep you warmed up for the summer season ahead, and enjoy this one with some friends, and maybe a pint or two.
My Rating: 3.5/5