Life (Daniel Espinosa, 2017) ends the brilliant streak of epic space-extra-terrestrial conversations that Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian and Arrival have stirred from the last 4 years.
A group of multinational scientists tests a sample soil from Mars, successfully proving that it contains the first proof of extraterrestrial life through single cell extraction. This leads to a series of unprecedented events of attack as the new-found species turns into a predator for its own survival.
The film has every potential to be a solid space epic, in-your-face extra-terrestrial tale: a very exciting premise, above par visual effects, and a committed ensemble; however, an uninspired screenplay and indecisive direction drag the film down to deep space.
In all fairness, Life boasts thrills but the good part stops there. The film majorly suffers from lack of context and insufficient substance other than the obvious artifice of man vs. alien. Filled with underwritten and one dimensional characters, the screenplay is short of the charm and definitive intelligence as it boxes itself in a textbook-ish narrative filled with jargons and scientific propaganda, making the entire film very emotionally distant for the audience to even care or sympathize for the characters. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to root for the characters as there is almost nothing to hold onto them. They make hasty and irrational decisions from start to finish, solely building to the shock value of the film, completely empty of any human depth.
The entire film feels as if it were a mere elimination game than a genuine survival story as director Daniel Espinosa evidently showcases shock after shock; indecisive whether to go the Cuaron’s Gravity or Aliens vs Predator; or perhaps the cardinal sin of marrying both through its mise en scènes, leading to a messy, incoherent storyline. The atmosphere of the first hour felt so minimalistic, and it leads you feeling that this is going to be one of those art-house space features full of silent moments and engaging characters. However, the director decides to go completely the opposite, as everything startlingly transforms into a monstrous battle story. Juggling the two themes perhaps is ambitious, and will always have the ability to soar high once done with finesse and intellect, but at the same time, will always be bound to a miserable failure if polar elements won’t be hemmed flawlessly – for this occasion, the latter.
The film has respectable performances from Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal. They are two of the better aspects of the film, but aren’t just enough to truly engage into their journey of nothingness. You can tell from the actors’ commitment that they are boldly determined to nail the film, but having their tour de force talents surrounded by confusion just dilute the power they give.
Overall, Life suffers from the inescapable misfortune of being released in an era fresh from Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian and Arrival, where intelligence and emotional engagement matter more than the surface of excitement and thrills. It showcases nothing new and doesn’t really give much of what we’ve already gotten before.
Now showing across Philippine cinemas, Life is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.