With Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox prepping for another Alien film (Alien: Covenant, due in May), Columbia seemingly wanted to get the jump this year on xenophobia. Enter Life, the latest project from director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House and Child 44). Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who collaborated on Deadpool), this sci-fi horror isn’t groundbreaking, nor does it offer anything new, but it does make some bold choices which allow it to become memorable.

Set in present day, a multinational six-member crew aboard an international space station is on a mission to test soil samples obtained from Mars. The crew consists of Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) and Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya). Derry, being the resident biologist, studies the soil sample and discovers life within it. This form of like is, by all accounts, extraordinary because it is both muscle and brain and grows at an accelerated rate. This organism is more than the crew bargained for and soon they are fighting for their lives and the lives of every human on the planet.

Let’s start off with a little good. In terms of casting, Espinosa and crew did a fine job of that. Life boasts an Oscar nominee in Gyllenhaal, an actor riding on a wave of success stemming from the immensely popular Deadpool (Reynolds) and an actress (Ferguson) who made a big splash, and was every bit Tom Cruise’s equal, in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Reynolds and Espinosa worked together previously in Safe House, so the two are familiar with each other. But the pairing of Reynolds with Gyllenhaal is a bromance made in heaven. There is plenty of solemnity coming from Life, but you can tell they joked around way too much when the cameras weren’t rolling. On screen they portray an organic intensity which spread throughout the rest of the cast and it is an aspect which allows Life to succeed.

With the film itself, Life suffers from many of the typical tropes that befall many a horror film. Considering the high intelligence level of this space crew, they make some silly and grave mistakes (not unlike in the original Alien) which allow this new creature, known as Calvin, to thrive. Through dialogue, we realize Calvin is highly intelligent in its own right, but one against six would typically tip the odds in the crew’s favor. If they did act more in accordance with their intelligence level Life would only be about 40 minutes long. Still, overall there is a decent level of intelligence, and Calvin is able to outwit more than overpower the crew.

Another thing that works well within the story is the setting. Since the crew is stuck in space, there is plenty of claustrophobia, reminiscent of Gravity. Being in the space station ups the ante since the crew is basically trapped in cage with a wild, intelligent animal. This brings about more intensity and provides serious doubt as to the film’s conclusion.

That brings us to the obvious – Life is derivative of previous films, and those previous films are highly-regarded at that. If you’re big on the films that Life emulates, particularly Alien and Gravity, then Espinosa’s latest will not make an impact. But if you’re open to seeing a different take on those features, then this will work. Life works, for the most part. It’s well-acted, contains a beautiful continuous shot during its prologue and moves with enough pace to capitalize on its tension. In the end it’s merely a matter of deciding whether its unoriginality is worth sitting through.

Despite that, Life makes a bold move during its final act. The direction it takes is memorable and allows it to stand out. It may actually be enough to cast a shadow over its unoriginal content, but ultimately I’ll leave that to you to decide.

3.5 stars out of 5

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