365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Life (2017)

Wow! Life > Alien.!

Yup. You heard that right. 2017 is off to a tremendous start! January, February, and March typically combine for the worst quarter of the year for movies. I've been reviewing movies since 2010 and each year has confirmed this belief. I didn't anticipate 2017 feeling differently but is slowly happening. First, there was the surprising Split, which I personally wasn't a fan of, but one that did fantastic with audience and critics. Then there was Logan, which at the time of this writing is one of my five favorite Marvel movies ever. Sprinkle in the surprise hit Get Out, the quality reboot Kong: Skull Island, the live-action smash success Beauty and the Beast and you already have five movies that, won't necessarily be up for awards at the end of the year, but will be remembered as success stories for 2017. Now add a late March release of Life, the Jake Gyllenhaal/Ryan Reynolds vehicle that has been wowing potential audiences with both extended trailers and television advertisements during some marquee events. And for good reason. The trailer drew my interest and, barring a complete rejection by the critics, I knew this would be a movie that I saw in the theater. I am actually surprised by the 66% critics score and even more shocked by the 61% audience score. This movie isn't necessarily a thinker in terms that you're going to get confused, but it does make you use your brain to follow along. For this reason, I don't expect an audience score to be 95% or whatever, but I would expect it to be much higher. Perhaps it was a little slow for some people at times. I certainly did not think so. I was hooked from the beginning and thoroughly engrossed the entire 103 minute run time.

A crew of six is aboard the Pilgrim 7 space station. There is a capsule from Mars floating in a meteor shower. United Kingdom Engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds - Deadpool, Safehouse) leaves the ship in a dangerous attempt to catch the capsule with a piece of technology. Adams successfully pulls in the capsule, and its contents are studied by English biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jupiter Ascending). The main source of interest is a tiny looking ameba. The Mars sample that is received is the reason for the story of the movie. What is a little more unclear is what this space station does if it doesn't happen to get a random incoming pellet from one of the seven other planets. It seems that this is the sole purpose of the space station, which has the ability to apparently circle the earth at a much quicker rate than anything we've seen before. The crew of six comes and goes, but medical doctor David Jordan (Gyllenhaal - Brokedown Mountain, Source Code) currently holds the record with most consecutive time spent in outer-space at over 400 days. David is not one of Gyllenhaal's more quirky characters, but we do learn that he can relate much more to the solitude of space than he can the 8 billion people living on earth (yes, 8 billion...this movie is set in the not too distant future). Gyllenhaal has been delivering knockout performances in some of his more recent movies (Southpaw, Nocturnal Animals, Prisoners, Everest, Demolition, Nightcrawler, End of Watch). It's just a matter of time before he gets that second Oscar nomination (he earned a best-supporting nomination performance for 2005's Brokeback Mountain). Unfortunately, Life won't be that movie. His performance was top notch, but this was not a movie driven by the performances of the cast. There wasn't a huge opportunity for the actors in this movie to really showcase their range. As you might expect from a group of astronauts, all six are extremely intelligent. They each have a very unique and purposeful specialty. They are friendly and easy to get along with. They have effective communication skills. They can joke around, but only when the situation calls for it. When they are working, that becomes their complete focus. They follow a set of clearly defined protocols. And they are alert. They are constantly alert.

In addition to Rory, Hugh, and David are Katrina Glovkin (Olga Dihovichnaya), a Russian commander and the unquestioned leader of the expedition, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson - The Girl on the Train, Florence Foster Jenkins), a quarantine expert from the U.K., and Japanese pilot Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanda -The Last Samurai, The Wolverine). It's a tight crew, but as they mention early in the film, the crew rotates in and out at different times. It's not like these six people enter and exit the space station all at once and, as mentioned, David as been on Pilgrim 7 far longer than anyone else on the crew. Through experimenting with different types of oxygen levels and pressures, Hugh is able to bring the ameba to life. And, in doing so, it is declared that the first alien life form. Constantly in contact with earth, the crew is on a morning talk show answering questions from various elementary-aged children who attend school in New York City. It is mostly just for fun but brings credence of having just potentially discovered life beyond earth. Through a competition, one local school earns the right to name the alien. The name it chooses is Calvin.

Hugh has the most interest in Calvin and having so much fun with this little gooey creature that probably weighs less than two ounces that he ignores certain safety protocols. The other crew members quickly get on him about him about it, specifically when Calvin goes dormant after a lab malfunction that forces Hugh to use an electroshock want to revive him. When Calvin starts growing at an abnormal pace and begins exhibiting violent tendencies while also displaying strength, awareness, and intelligence, it is Rory who forces Hugh to wipe that smile off his face, saying, "Calvin isn't your friend, Hugh. I'm your friend." It is true that there isn't a person on earth who has ever seen anything like Calvin before and therefore no precedent on what to do in any new situation.

This movie isn't like Arrival. It doesn't explore the more human side of the unknown lifeform. There is no gentleness involved. Without giving too much away, Calvin doesn't stay a two-ounce ameba for very long and soon, after procedures to contain this growing, goopy, and lightning quick extraterrestrial fail, it becomes a fight for life. These six humans do everything in their power to stay alive and to kill Calvin. As an audience, we feel like the seventh member of the crew and are as fearful as any of the six astronauts that Calvin is going to appear. As repeated attempts to kill Calvin fail, we start to lose faith that this movie might result in a sweet little happy ending. This movie certainly didn't start as a horror film. But then again, neither did Alien. It builds slowly and methodically. Since the crew is small, it's very easy to become connected to each of the six characters. 98% of the film takes place in the dark, chilly, confined, coiled space station corridors. It's so massive and seems to have so many hallways and rooms that it never feels like they're never in the same place more than once...except maybe the lab, where some of the film's most exciting and terrifying scenes take place. The movie just keeps getting darker and your mind becomes more and more warped as you become entrenched in the terror. Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44), the incredible cinematography, and the menacing score slowly take you to depths that you can't help but go to if you make the commitment to join him on the ride.

This movie is scary as hell, and I can't recommend it enough.

Plot 10/10
Character Development 8.5/10
Character Chemistry 9/10
Acting 8.5/10
Screenplay 9/10
Directing 9/10
Cinematography 10/10
Sound 10/10
Hook and Reel 10/10
Universal Relevance 8.5/10

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