- Well-written and performed characters – key to a film set in such a small location where you need to care about them
- Quick pace to keep everything exciting but not so hurried as to detract from quality
- But nothing stands out and nothing is special – Gravity and Alien without the special ‘je ne sais quoi’
One look at the trailer for Life and the influences on this film are obvious; many parallels have already been made to Alien and Gravity and, whilst these films supersede Life by quite a margin, there is still much here to be enjoyed, although nothing particularly original.
A team of scientists in the International Space Station study a sample from Mars which turns out to be inconclusive proof that life on the planet exists. However soon it becomes clear that this initially innocent sample is deadly and dangerous and grows to threaten the very lives of everyone on board.
A simple enough plot, but fortunately the film moves at a fast enough pace to suit it; never does it feel like it’s lagging or getting boring. This is largely due to a good balance of action and dialogue; enough action to keep the story exciting and enough dialogue for us to learn about and really understand the characters. In fact it is really the characters, as opposed to the alien, that are the driving force of the film. Whilst the alien may drive the plot, we really wouldn’t care much about the fate of the characters if we didn’t like or feel for them. These characters are the film’s primary strength and due credit should be given to both the writers and actors. The cast is for the most part just six characters in one location for the whole time so it’s a relief that we want to spend time with these characters we learn to love and hope for their survival. Ultimately (slight spoiler, but nothing major) not all survive, with one particularly surprising death (mainly down to who it was and how early they died), yet this is Life‘s strength – to quickly establish likable characters yet move the plot forward and not be afraid to kill them off.
Other aspects of the film are certainly worthy of mention; the cinematography is perfect for a film set in space with it’s slow sweeping shots – a notable scene being at the beginning where there’s a one take shot following the scientists as they float through the zero gravity space station, fully immersing us in the film’s setting and instantly showing us a life coping without gravity. The design of the malevolent alien too is interesting – although no match for Alien‘s titular seminal design, it does the trick as we see it grow from an innocent little piece of blubber to a much more sinister creation (the bit in the middle when it’s more or less an irritating starfish however is much less sinister). One issue I did take with the alien was their explanation of how powerful it is. There may have been more to fear were it left unexplained, but it seems a bit ridiculous to say it’s all-muscle, all-eye and all-brain.
While the characters are well-defined, well-written, well-acted and likable and do drive the plot forward at a steady pace with a suitably malicious creature after them with some excellent twists (the one at the end certainly made it a great ending for me), there’s just something missing. Perhaps it’s that firstly we’ve seen all of this before. A film set in space, a film where there’s trouble surviving in space, a film where there are monsters/ aliens systematically killing of characters – these are all genre tropes that have been done to death and perhaps they’re becoming a little too predictable, not shocking enough; which leads me on to the second issue which is that for a film which largely advertised itself in trailers as being a horror, and at times even tries to be a horror, it really isn’t that scary at all. Tense perhaps, but never truly scary. Fortunately it rarely resolves to cheap jump scares, but to really qualify as a horror, more scares are needed, be it in shocks or atmosphere.
Although there’s nothing that stands out to set it apart from other movies like this, there’s nevertheless lots to like in this sci-fi horror. Good characters with good dialogue, well paced, exciting action and an all-powerful killer martian.