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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Life (2017)

When (human) life is created, it can become anything. Life, successfully, tries to be everything. Daniel Espinoa's space thriller takes a lot from Alien, Gravity, 2001, and, most likely others. However, it's only enough for the audience to get initially engaged in the film. After that, it's the best kind of bumpy ride, rivaled only Space Mountain.

Life is about six astronauts who find an advanced human specimen, that slowly, but surely, turns of them. Survival quickly becomes the backup plan, when it's clear that keeping the alien away from Earth is the top priority. These characters take that extremely seriously, and it benefits the film immensely. Life doesn't feature any stock characters. People could certainly be fleshed out more, but enough time is spent with everyone so there's someone for the audience to latch onto. The actors had a difficult challenge, having to act scared, believably human, pretend they were in a zero-gravity environment, and perform an opening long take that bests Gravity in its complexity. The standouts will vary person to person, thank goodness, but Jake Gyllenhall and Ariyon Bakare up there. It may be because their characters can be the toughest to identify with, but again, that can vary.

The alien, named Calvin by some STEM-centric elementary schoolers via a webcam (this is a very sweet movie sometimes), is a wonderful creation. His evolution and behavior are literally put under the microscope, and every little detail of the CGI-beast looks seamless. He may look a little like a Xenomorph or Predator, or a symbiote, in some shots, but there's enough original design around his face to balance that out. On the Xenomorph side of things, Calvin may be more deadly, and this is illustrated through some interesting first-person shots. This is also where some of the 2001 influence comes in, along with some of the most gruesome space deaths on screen.

This is not a horror film, but it is a violent, R-rated one. There are no jump scares, but there are buckets of free-floating blood, which could definitely freak out some people. If you can get past that though, you're in for a treat because this is one of the few thrillers that can take every opportunity to slow down without loss of momentum. That sweet moment with the STEM kids isn't the only one in the film, there are little touches like that here and there, as a character is mourned, or a gut-wrenching decision is made.

The ending may seem underwhelming, and upon rewatch, Life may have some major plot holes that shouldn't be overlooked. Still, at least at first glance, 2017 brought another breath of fresh air to one of the genres that instinctively tightens throats.