Not since Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity have I felt such palpable stress in a cinema auditorium, and this is to the credit of Daniel Espinosa’s sci-fi thriller, Life. His unimaginatively-titled offering to the genre is a nightmare for the blood pressure but, sadly, not quite so stimulating on the brain.
The premise is simple: cell samples are collected from Mars, these cells grow out of control, the plot of Alien ensues. The script is chockablock with melodramatic “when I was a kid I used to think…” monologues that spoil the tension in quite a jarring way; I struggle to believe that even the most homesick astronaut would daydream about their childhood whilst being pursued by a giant flesh-eating starfish.
The creature itself is suitably terrifying. For some reason it acquires the name ‘Calvin’ (yes, Calvin), and it looks and moves like a mutant Flubber (remember Flubber?), but its mode of killing is truly hideous, and certainly not for the faint of heart.The film’s choreography adds to its horror, and the impressive physicality of all cast members during high-octane scenes goes some way to making up for a script that is generally lacking in believable emotion.
After Arrival provided a masterclass in how to use sound in sci-fi, Espinosa’s Life does little to deliver on this front and, useful as the creature’s silence is for the inevitable jump-scares, I can’t help but feel they missed a trick in choosing not to give it a terrifying sound to make.
The visuals of the International Space Station are undoubtedly impressive, and a particular scene in which the astronauts show schoolchildren around the base via Skype allows for an interesting new perspective on the space station trope.
All in all, Life is not a bad film. In fact, for its flaws, it is quite thrilling; Espinosa clearly wanted me to leave the theatre with a distinct feeling of dread, and I’m quite sure I did. Ultimately though, if you have two hours to spare and are in the mood for a sci-fi thriller exploring a specimen-gone-wrong story, I would happily direct you to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, or indeed its brilliant sequel. Why settle for third best?
Image: Georges Biard