‘Life’ effectively combines familiar sci-fi and horror elements

Just floating through Life.
Jeffrey M. Anderson

Three stars

Life Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hiroyuki Sanada. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.

If the recent Arrival raised hopes that not all aliens from outer space are out to get us, then the inaptly titled Life dashes them again. It's nothing we haven't seen before; it's Alien plus a little Gravity-type stuff thrown in, along with every Friday the 13th-type, and-then-there-were-none slasher countdown. The difference is in the execution.

Even though director Daniel Espinosa didn't exactly leave noticeable calling cards with movies like Safe House and Child 44, he turns in an accomplished array of technical achievements. His camera glides smoothly along the corridors of an orbiting satellite, as if it, too, were weightless. The lighting (including a glowing red-alert effect) and editing, and especially the grinding, seething musical score—also quite a bit like Gravity's—provide some enjoyable, seat-gripping tension.

The characters also get credit for at least seeming smart; no one makes the rookie mistake of going off to investigate alone, and the monster, named "Calvin," is also said to be smart. Although, frankly, it does get one too many airlock doors slammed in its face.

Life also gets marks for casting a nice cross-section of ordinary types. Of a crew of six, two are white, male Americans (Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal); the two women are European (Rebecca Ferguson and Olga Dihovichnaya); and the other two men are Japanese (Hiroyuki Sanada) and a black Englishman (Ariyon Bakare). Nobody steps up to become John McClane or John Wick, and the black guy does not die first.

Reynolds has on board his two Deadpool screenwriters, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick—they also wrote the great Zombieland—but their laugh-worthy quips in Life are few and far between. That could also be because this movie gets moving quickly and doesn't really have time for asides; even the ending is nicely succinct. However, the ultimate take-home was summed up better by John Lennon: "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

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