Life Review (2017)

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Rated R (for language, sci-fi violence, horror)

After a close call reigning in an out of control satellite, a multi-national group of scientists on the international space station ISS are charged with examining soil samples from Mars for evidence of extra-terrestrial life.  In these samples lie dormant single cellular organisms and when British biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) decides to try and wake one of them out of stasis (because of course he does), the crew quickly find themselves with more than they bargained for.  Starting off as a small and cute gelatinous blob, named Calvin by spectators back on Earth, the creature rapidly grows and evolves, developing an anti-human stance that it acts upon in an efficient and often gruesome manner.  Not the best situation to find yourself in, when stuck in a claustrophobic floating tin can in outer space.

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If you’re thinking that this sounds pretty similar to Ridley Scott‘s Alien, then you would be right.  Life is very derivative of the 1979 film, but while it might not be original, it does feature enough tension and jump scares to keep the film entertaining as you watch the hapless astronauts being taken out one by one.  This is a film that revels in taking each situation that the scientists find themselves in and making it worse, but done with great cinematographic long shots, and putting the narrow, confined set of the space station to full use.
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What does hurt the film though is the numerous idiotic actions that the supposedly smart scientists perform.  Right from the onset when Hugh Derry is initially examining the alien life-form, he thrusts his gloved hands into the enclosed space with the alien.  I’m no expert, but surely this would be best done through some kind of automated mechanical device?  Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t go around poking at some new life-form with my hands, gloved or not.  This is just one example of the not so clever decisions undertaken by the astronauts, and it’s one of many. I won’t divulge any more for the sake of spoilers but I’m sure you’ll spot them.
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But if you’re willing to overlook this random acts of stupidity, and the Hollywood “science” that the film offers, then you should be in for a thrilling time.  Director Daniel Espinosa, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick deftly ratchet up the intensity as the film progresses, not afraid to show from the get go that none of the crew is safe from the almost omniscient-seeming life-form, regardless of how much of an A-lister the actor may be.  There is no one real main characters in this cast, no one hero/heroine that the audience can look to, to save the day.  All of them are every-men, just looking to survive this hellish predicament they find themselves in.
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That’s not to say the characters are bland.  Before things start going awry, the film establishes the camaraderie and familial bond the astronauts have with each other and the roles they play within the station.  There are engineers Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) and Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), crew medical officer David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), the earlier mentioned biloigst Hugh Derry, quarantine officer Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and mission commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya).  There’s an easy going nature betwen the cast and you can believe that they really have been working together for a prolonged period of time.  As expected Ryan Reynold’s Rory tends to make most of the wise-cracks, while Gyllenhaal’s Jordan is more somber and introspective.  There is something slightly off about him, the reasons for which are explored in the film.
Jake Gyllenhaal;Rebecca Ferguson
After her star making turn in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Rebecca Ferguson proves that it wasn’t just a fluke, and she is more than able to hold her own against Hollywood’s finest.  Her Dr North is a no nonsense type, who is not afraid to do what’s needed for the greater good.  In lesser hands this character could have been unlikable, but Ferguson makes the audience see the rationale behind her actions.  Unfortunately not all the characters fared as well, as Dihovichnaya and Sanada did not get as much to do as the others.  But the biggest missed opportunity was Bakare’s Hugh Derry.  Part of his backstory had the potential to make Derry one of the more nuanced characters in the film but it wasn’t really utilised as well as it could have been.
Rebecca Ferguson

I found the score by Jon Ekstrand very Interstellar-esque at times, and I mean that as a compliment.  It was melancholy, haunting and complemented the intense moments that occurred. It was another facet that helped me look past the derivative nature of the film.

I thought Life was an enjoyable watch, and it did have me at the edge of my seat. I give it a 7 out of 10.

P.S. there are no end credits.

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