The sc-fi genre gets a fresh injection of fear, true terror and isolation.
After Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, and now its sequel Alien: Covenant due for release in May 2017, it’s a tough market out there at the moment, though Life has hit the ground running and given us an added sense of being terrified in space.
Life’s setting explores the idea of living on the International Space Station – with experienced director Daniel Espinosa at the helm. He keeps the film rolling along with a defined flair, and the story and screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is concise, superb, and breathtaking in parts.
I feel out of all the planets in the solar system, Mars is the one that has intrigued us the most, from Victorian times to the present day. And Life has taken on this suggestion in movie form.
The Martians this time have a name: ‘Calvin.’ A probe from Mars, named the ‘Pilgrim’, docks with the space station carrying this creature, and the first inclinations are: that this small alien being from Mars is harmless and something to be studied and experimented on. However, that soon changes, as due to its genetics it becomes a mutant, abhorrent species, that writhes, crawls and jumps, releasing a silvery slime – and for the unfortunate victims who come into contact with it, their limbs are crushed with bone shattering brutality. The alien life form’s structure is organic, and it has an intelligence pulsating within its skin-type covering. ‘Calvin’ is clever, sinister, and more terrible than we could have possibly imagined at the outset.
With (Jake Gyllenhaal) David Jordan. (Ryan Reynolds) Roy Adams, (Rebecca Ferguson) Miranda North in the lead parts, these actors are the main stay for events. I have to say they are first-rate in their roles and interact with each other flawlessly. In addition, the other members of the cast are assembled with a touch of class to give us a true international mix of astronauts, living and working on the International Space Station.
This global set up of actors from different nationalities has been utilised effectively for the story, to give it a Ridley Scott, Alien type feel – and with The International Space Station as the setting, you can probably guess, we’re in for a turbulent explosion of thrills and fear, interwoven with an air of the morbidity.
There’s a real beauty, but yet a genuine isolation in space. It’s been explored in various forms before. With Gravity, Alien, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. Life builds on this concept and takes it to another sphere of horror, all driven by Espinosa’s skill in keeping the film tense and on a knife-edge.
We also have an eerie musical score by Jon Ekstrand in the background, enhancing the impact of encounter, fear, and suspense.
I felt a sinking sensation during parts of the film. You feel like screaming, “Get out of there!” As you watch the alien form edge around the station in a spider-like fashion,with its life signs tracked and studied. ‘Calvin’ gets stronger and larger as time progresses and its personality is ominous and barbaric. It’s not a pleasant creature.
And collectively, with an air of claustrophobic dread weaving a path within Life’s narrative, we the audience, are given an indication about what a hostile alien species could ultimately do to us.
H. G. Wells’ visionary book The War of the Worlds explored this concept about something alien coming from Mars vividly. Even though the Martians in Wells’ terrifying story didn’t give humanity much time to observe and experiment on them.
Life on the other hand encapsulates the experimental aspect unequivocally – taking on the theory of alien examination, experimentation, and subsequent quarantine ethics without restraint.
The plot in the movie is tight and well manoeuvred, with a pulsating energy that at times leaves you breathless. It must have been especially tricky to do this, but Espinosa succeeded in that task with great finesse.
As the plot thickens we are thrust into the action with an array of gore, blood-letting and paranoia. All helped by the amazing Cinematography by Seamus McGarvey: it’s truly inspiring and awe-inspiring. You really think at times you’re suffocating and floating in the outreaches of space, possibly never to return.
The costumes and lighting in Life are authentic, and the dialogue is sharp, and finely tuned, with various scientific ideas and question raised and discussed. Then we have the great special effects, enforcing the psychological feature of dread.
And so, as things deteriorate, and sections of the station are shut down and sealed…the astronauts try various measures to eradicate this monster in their midst. Unfortunately, the alien life form ‘Calvin’, is unrestrained, and takes no prisoners. Life’s imagery, remoteness and slick atmospheric camera shots emphasise this torment, and brings it to another level of intensity that I’ve not experienced for a long time.
When the action nears a conclusion we’re left wondering if the remaining scientists and astronauts can survive. Prior to being catapulted into a desperate finale where the two lead characters confront ‘Calvin’, for a final time, and try vehemently to destroy it, by forcing this alien creature into the International Space Station’s air lock.
Director Espinosa has sustained a dramatic momentum during Life, testing us, enlightening us, and frightening us with an encore of blood and violence and engaging aftershocks that should be enough to satisfy to most ardent of sc-fi horror fans.
And so, I’m left to add, perhaps mankind is the untamed beast and the alien life form in Life is a warning that we’re not the powerful ones – maybe we’re not alone in the expanding Universe, although after watching this film, I certainly hope so.