Every time the dreaded Sony logo appears on-screen, my heart dies. I can’t think of a single good Sony Pictures film that I can think of in recent memory, and with productions like The Emoji Movie and Smurfs: The Lost Village, things don’t look optimistic in the future. Getting back on topic, when “Sony” appeared on the cinema screen, I sank in my seat slightly, but sat up slowly. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad – I enjoyed The Magnificent Seven quite a bit and that was a Sony production. However, after 1 hour and 43 minutes had passed, I was able to leave the theatre with a broad smile on my face, not necessarily because of the quality of the movie, but because of how outrageously stupid the hilarious ending was.
No need to fear, thar be no spoilers here.
Life‘s opening sequence is a mighty impressive one: a constantly-moving handheld camera travelling around the International Space Station, observing the characters as they prep for collection of a dirt sample from Mars, which has veered off course and must be retrieved using a large mechanical arm to catch it. Immediately, it is obvious that this uncut introductory scene is inspired by Gravity. I found this Cuaron-esque sequence immensely tense and enjoyable, even if the way it is filmed is rather unoriginal.
Unoriginal. That’s the key word when we talk about this movie. I mean, I love films about extraterrestrial entities stalking a group of humans on a ship in outer space slowly picking them off and consuming them one by one in a variety of wonderfully gory ways whilst the characters themselves make continuously dumb decisions in order to keep the plot interesting as much as the next person, but unfortunately it has been done before in a little film called Alien. Understand that making a movie which takes a lot of inspiration from another is totally fine, provided the film is able to have its own identity. The Force Awakens, for example, is obviously hugely influenced by its predecessor, A New Hope, but its great writing, well-developed characters and intrigue keep it from feeling like a simple New Hope remake. Life, on the other hand, takes many aspects of other famous sci-fi horror like the aforementioned Gravity and Alien, and also Sunshine, but never quite finds what makes those films so iconic. The film does enough to detach itself from its inspirations, but never solidifies its own identity. Much of the film is simply sitting around and waiting for something spooky to happen, which gets quite dull quite fast. The formula seemed to be:
- Trap the alien in an environment in which certain resources the creature needs to survive are absent.
- Sit around and wait for the alien to die (have the characters spend time crying or stating their thoughts and emotions out loud instead of acting for bonus points).
- One of the characters does something stupid (or a surprise inconvenience occurs) allowing the alien to escape their death prison and kill one of them (maybe even too if you’re feeling adventurous).
- Until it gets old and the viewer isn’t interested anymore and doesn’t notice any dumb bullshit when it happens.
And there is a LOT of dumb bullshit in this movie, and although I found that I wasn’t too bothered by most of it, one particular scene was baffling to watch. I won’t spoil what happens in the scene, but needless to say, nothing made sense and 95% of the time I had no idea what was going on.
The characters weren’t particularly well-written and were in fact quite weak (think better than Rogue One, but much worse than Sunshine). Rather than allowing the actors to, you know, act, instead they just state exactly how they’re feeling at the time. It should go unsaid that this is precisely what not to do when trying to write a compelling screenplay – it’s the constant first rule of film writing: show, don’t tell. There’s a moment where Rebecca Ferguson’s character (whose name I do not remember, which is telling I suppose) expresses out loud how much she hates the alien on board. This dialogue didn’t add anything or help in understanding her character, it simply acted as a clunky, out-of-place way of not having to worry about actually directing the actors. Another scene has her say “It’s so cold” even though we can already see based on the characters’ expressions, mannerisms, and even the environment around them. All it does is serve as an insult to the viewer’s intelligence and weakens the overall experience. It becomes difficult to latch onto any of the characters’ struggles when none of them feel like anything more than simply excuses to enact entertaining gore scenes.
The gore, however, is very well-done. Every death (apart from one near the end of the second act) is incredibly affecting, even though the characters aren’t particularly interesting. I never cared about these people, but every death felt impactful due to the excellent gore effects on display. One death in particular, the first one in fact, might be one of the most uncomfortable experiences I have ever gone through in a cinema, but for all the right reasons. The visual effects for the gore are great, but the alien itself is less so. When it is very small at the beginning of the movie, it is genuinely creepy. The way it moves, and how it darts from place to place at lightning speed making it very difficult to track, was legitimately unnerving, and had the alien remained that size for the rest of the movie, or perhaps had multiple copies of itself running around and hunting the humans, it could have made for some really great tension. But alas, the alien only grew larger and larger, until it was about the size of a dog, and by that point it wasn’t scary anymore, somehow the creature managed to grow a face with eyes and a mouth, which makes no sense since earlier in the film, it is stated that each of its cells are identical to one another as it grows, and each cell is simultaneously a muscle, a brain, a nerve, and so on. Not only does the alien’s face look stupid, it also makes no sense, only further removing the viewer from the experience. The CGI isn’t great either, and once the alien looks bigger, it no longer feels threatening, and the unconvincing CGI accounts for this. This may be due to the fact that aliens do not exist and by default any CGI would not be convincing, so I suppose that’s for you to decide.
I may have sounded incredibly negative on Life, but honestly I quite enjoyed it. The setting was cool, and the characters, while not interesting, were at least fun to observe as they all slowly get picked off one by one. Life is a film full of ideas, an endless treasure trove of exciting possibles, but unfortunately it never capitalises on its potential, which I suppose is the true disappointment of this film. Regardless, I had a good time, I enjoyed my experience, and I’d certainly recommend it if you want to have a simple, fun time at the cinema.