- by Jeff Beck
Life: A Lazily-Written Creature Feature (Blu-ray)
Horror films in space have been a staple of the genre dating all the way back to the 50s, giving us films like “It! The Terror From Beyond Space” to more modern entries like “Event Horizon,” “Pandorum,” and “Jason X.” Of course, the greatest of these has always been Sir Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece, “Alien,” a film that brilliantly combined a thrilling narrative, a claustrophobic and gorgeously-designed environment, and an outstanding ensemble to give us one of the greatest horror films ever made. Since then, there have been multiple filmmakers that have tried to copy its success, leading to several poor ripoffs that haven’t come anywhere close to accomplishing what Scott and his team did nearly 40 years ago. This brings us to Daniel Espinosa’s “Life,” a film which utilizes a very similar plot in an attempt to elicit a few thrills. Will this finally be the one that gets it right, or do we merely have another film to toss on the already-enormous heap of sub-par copycats?
The film follows a crew of astronauts, including David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), and Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), aboard the International Space Station who are waiting to collect a probe that is returning from Mars. The probe brings back a soil sample that they soon discover contains a dormant cell, which Dr. Derry is able to revive. Shortly after, it grows into a multi-cellular organism, at which time it lashes out at Dr. Derry by crushing his hand. “Calvin,” as the creature has been named, escapes from his confines and starts killing members of the six-person crew, forcing them to come up with a plan to kill it or at least stop it from reaching Earth. However, given the fact that they are in a confined area in the planet’s orbit, it won’t prove to be an easy task.
“Life” is the kind of film you get when you remove all of the thrills, creativity, and style from “Alien” and try to move forward as though it’s all still there. In essence, we have yet another film where an alien lifeform gets onboard the protagonists’ ship/station and tries to kill them all, but in this instance, the writing is so lethargic and the characters so dim, that thrills are going to be the last thing that it ends up eliciting. For a film that is billed as a horror/thriller, you can only imagine how damaging this would be.
In fact, its two main issues are rather intertwined, for it’s the screenplay (written by “Deadpool” scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) that has these supposedly intelligent characters doing one idiotic thing after another. Granted, this is a common staple of slasher films, but usually only for more straightforward entries in the subgenre. In other words, you wouldn’t expect to see astronauts screwing up something major in the lab, going into a room where the creature has just nearly killed someone else, or venturing outside after the creature has managed to get out. It’s enough to make you wonder if these doctors/engineers actually graduated, or are merely imposters.
Then there’s the creature itself, “Calvin.” Turning back to “Alien” one more time, you’ll recall another reason that it was so successful was because of the terrifying design of the face-huggers and the xenomorphs, alien designs that left more than a few viewers creeped out. Calvin is quite the opposite. It would appear that just as much though went into the design of Calvin as had gone into the screenplay, leaving us with a laughable CGI octopus thing chasing the crew around the station and yet another reason why the film fails to give its audience any thrills. One can only imagine how the cast must have reacted to seeing the finished product for the first time after having to work with stand-ins during filming, a thought which only make this whole endeavor even more amusing.
It’s rather disappointing too because the production design by Nigel Phelps is pretty impressive, as is some of the cinematography from Oscar nominee Seamus McGarvey (“Atonement,” “Anna Karenina”), particularly the unbroken opening shot. Unfortunately it’s all in service to a film that ironically has no life to it. It feels like it’s put on autopilot from the very start, never daring to actually do something daring. The result is a lazily-written creature feature that is more likely to have you chuckling, instead of engaged and terrified as was the filmmakers’ probable intent. However, with so little effort applied toward this intention, it really comes as no surprise that they didn’t even come close to reaching their goal.
“Life” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. Taking place in space, this can be a rather dark film at times, but the picture remains perfectly sharp and clear, which does a great job of showing off the great production design and the mostly-excellent special effects. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is impressive as well, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in outstanding quality. Overall, while the movie isn’t quite up to snuff, there’s no denying that this release received top-notch treatment.
Deleted Scenes (6 Minutes): A collection of six deleted sequences that add nothing to the film.
Life: In Zero G (7 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at how the zero gravity effect was achieved.
Creating Life: The Art and Reality of Calvin (7 Minutes): A featurette that examines the design of the film’s antagonist.
Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space (7 Minutes): A featurette that explores how the filmmakers attempted to craft a thriller using sci-fi elements.
Astronaut Diaries (3 Minutes): A pointless inclusion that has some of the actors creating diaries as their characters.
Daniel Espinosa’s “Life” is little more than a lazily-written creature feature that fails to elicit thrills thanks to its characters of low intelligence and the laughable design of its CGI antagonist. It may feature excellent production design and some fine cinematography, but they are merely wasted on a film that put very little effort into its most important elements, leaving behind a bland and forgettable entry in the “horror in space” subgenre.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.