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First run Theater cinema

Life is the latest disappointing attempt at intelligent, big-budget, studio crafted sci-fi. But unlike Interstellar, The Martian, Arrival, and Passengers, I doubt too many folks will be lining up to over-praise this picture. The action takes place aboard an International Space Station orbiting Earth. When the six-member crew receives what they believe to be the first evidence of life on Mars, they are at first overjoyed, but their discovery soon terns ominous and threatens not only their lives, but all of humanity! 

The picture boasts an impressive cast including Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson. But, try as they do, none of the actors can sell the hackneyed, derivative ideas, characters, or dialogue found within this empty shell of a premise. The movie is essentially Alien without the originality, metaphorical imagery, sense of place, depth of character, mystery, suspense, humor, or worst of all, the terror. Despite his countless extended shots of crewmembers floating through the various chambers of the space station, director Daniel Espinosa (Easy Money, Safe House, Child 44) conveys neither a genuine understanding of his setting’s internal geography nor a sense of what weightlessness might feel like for his characters.  Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the writing duo who penned the hit Deadpool) clearly set out with the intention of creating a diverse, distinctive, multi-racial, women-led crew, but the characters end up as generic, two-dimensional versions of the ones we’ve seen in countless other movies about fictional astronauts. The film is riddled with actors spouting lines of wooden dialogue that describe the very thing we are seeing; yet despite this redundancy, it isn’t always clear what exactly is happening from moment to moment.   

Of course the central problem with Life (apart from its absurdly forgettable one-word title) is its reliance on a CGI monster to induce horror. Have these, and so many other contemporary filmmakers learned nothing from the central directorial lesson of Alien and Jaws—that movie monsters are far scarier when just barely glimpsed—or do they simply consider it an outdated concept, now that they have the ability to make photorealistic CGI do anything they want?  Either way, the more we gaze upon the creature in Life, the less terrifying it gets—and since a heck of a lot of screen time is devoted to this angry little starfish, it ceases to scare us about five minutes after it starts to become a threat.  There’s also the pesky issue that the ways the monster takes his frightening shapes often run counter to much of what we’ve been told about him. This movie monster is less like HR Geiger’s Alien and more reminiscent of the Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors (though with much less personality). 

Life builds to an absurd climax featuring an ill-advised reading of Goodnight Moon, and a twist ending that will surprise no one. In fact, the “dramatic conclusion” to Life smacks of such desperation in its attempt to inject energy into inert material that it only serves to make it crystal clear to viewers just how creatively bankrupt the entire movie we just sat through was.

Twitter Capsule:
A new low in the increasingly dull field of pseudointellectual, studio sci-fi.

Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Produced by Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn, David Ellison, and Dana Goldberg

Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick

With: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Ariyon Bakare

Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Editing: Mary Jo Markey and Frances Parker
Music: Jon Ekstrand

Runtime: 103 min
Release Date: 24 March 2017
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1