Stay on target
If you’ve watched any amount of TV or walked around 0utside, you’ve probably seen some of the advertisements for LIFE. It’s that sci-fi horror movie with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds that looks kind of a lot like Alien. Astronauts find an extra-terrestrial life form, bring it aboard, it eventually starts killing them. You probably know exactly what to expect from this kind of movie. Oh, and spoiler warning from here on out.
LIFE (yes, the title is in all caps for some reason) takes place on the international space station, which is probably the coolest thing about this movie. The set looks amazing, and the claustrophobic tunnels of the space station, plus the fact that you can’t move that fast in zero gravity, make for some fairly tense chase scenes. Whatever you’re feelings are about the rest of the movie, you can tell they did their homework when it came to the layout and design of the ISS. The same goes for most of the science in this movie. Sure, it’s fudged in places because of Hollywood, but there’s nothing outrageously ridiculous. NASA may not have the funding to go into space for real anymore, but at least they can make our sci-fi movies slightly more plausible.
The special effects are also really nice. The alien looks great and watching it move through space is mesmerizing in those few moments when it’s not killing the protagonists. Its first human kill, in particular, is an impressive bit of CG and by far the most uncomfortable to watch. When it’s still fairly small, it forces itself into Ryan Reynolds’s mouth and… does something to his insides. Whatever it did, the zero-g globules of blood erupting from his mouth was a very cool and properly disturbing picture. This is the highlight of the movie, as far as horror is concerned.
Ryan Reynolds in Columbia Pictures’ LIFE.
Also yes, Ryan Reynolds, the focus of 90 percent of the movie’s marketing, is in it the least. If he was your main reason for wanting to see this movie, well… that’s something to be aware of. It’s just as well. He sticks around just long enough for his sarcastic zinger shtick to get old.
Here, we get to one of the main problems of the movie. So much effort went into the special effects, recreating the ISS and assembling a group of talented A-list actors. The script doesn’t seem to have gotten nearly as much attention. You’ll notice I talked about Ryan Reynolds’s death scene in the movie? After spending nearly two hours with these characters, I still didn’t care to remember their names and I don’t care to go look them up now. They are disposable targets with singular personality traits. Jake Gyllenhaal is depressed and bitter. Hiroyuki Sanada wants to get home and meet his newborn daughter. Rebecca Ferguson is a stickler about quarantine rules, which causes every problem. Ryan Reynolds is Ryan Reynolds.
Aside from the general blandness of the characters, the pacing is all over the place. There’s a decent chunk in the middle of the movie where things move along at an exciting clip. The humans figure out a way to kill the alien, the alien outsmarts them. They try to hide; the alien finds a way in. It keeps the tension high and the movie entertaining if nothing else. Then there are long stretches at the beginning and end where the movie slows to a crawl. The moments leading up to the climax are especially dull. At that point the zero-gravity gimmick has gotten old, you’ve pretty much worked out how the movie is going to end, and it’s just an excruciating wait for the characters to catch up.
Ariyon Bakare in Columbia Pictures’ LIFE
That’s a running problem throughout the movie. It’s predictable. You know exactly how every scene is going to play out as soon as it starts, and it usually takes way too long to get there. From the moment the alien grabs onto Ariyon Bakare’s hand, you know it’s getting broken. At first, there’s some fun in that. Suspense is all about anticipation, after all. But when the outcome is so certain, there is no suspense. There’s just a long wait for a predictable outcome. This leads to a movie with few surprises, and as a result, it’s not scary. Sure, there are exciting moments, and a couple of tense scenes that manage to pull off the suspense they’re going for. But it’s never scary. When you know exactly what’s coming, it’s hard to be frightened.
Even the monster itself isn’t especially horrifying. It’s animated well, it’s a cool-looking special effect, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about it. After Reynolds’s death, it doesn’t even kill people in a, particularly gruesome way. It crushes them and moves on. For a movie with the same basic plot as Alien, I was hoping for something a little more nightmare-inducing. Maybe its name has something to do with it. I just can’t take a monster named Calvin seriously. Can’t wait for the sequel where they fight Hobbes.
Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) in Columbia Pictures’ LIFE.
LIFE is not nearly as stupid as you might assume going in, but it’s not as smart as it wants to be. While our heroes aren’t the dumbest group of scientists in science fiction (that honor still belongs to the crew of Prometheus), they’re just smart enough to remove any potential surprise from the movie. If all you want is some cool zero-g special effects, you won’t be disappointed. Hey, there’s a decent stretch in the middle where LIFE is an effective and enjoyable if less than scary, thriller. Otherwise, you’re probably better off rewatching Alien. That movie is still terrifying.