It is unbeatably tense and the sense of fear this uncertainty manages to evoke is terrifying on its own.
Originality can be overrated. After years of being bombarded with weak sequels and remakes the cinematic community has shied away from praising anything that isn’t massively original. Life is not a sequel or a remake, but it also isn’t an original. Trapped in a space ship with a monstrous alien is one of the most obvious and overused cliches in cinema, but it is sometimes forgotten that when art is created in the right manner, it can become something truly wonderful.
On the international space station, a group of astronauts are tasked with catching a pod bringing back a sample from the surface of Mars. They discover a cell life form within the capsule and begin tests. After a lab room malfunction, the subject lays dormant and only after a burst of electricity does the life form start to move again.
Life is an absolutely gripping tale of the extents science can get to, especially when dealing with an unknown quantity such as an alien life form. It is unbeatably tense and the sense of fear this uncertainty manages to evoke is terrifying on its own.
It isn’t a hugely original story and seems to reference at one point or another every other sci-fi film ever made, but this isn’t a bad thing. The film is made well and as long as it takes itself seriously, like it does, it will have a good base to run off. Ridley Scott’s Alien is obviously the most seamless comparison, but this is an incredibly personal story with a different kind of script behind it. Yet, naturally, the alien is petrifying.
In fact, the strongest element of Life is its monster. In the final moments it appears alarmingly scary and it’s movement throughout is endlessly creepy. It does actually torment psychologically with just its sheer presence. The brutality of the creature is horrifying but not outwardly imposing. A truly brilliant creation.
Jake Gyllenhaal shows again how impressive he can be, adding another to his range of diverse roles. For large portions of the film it’s easy to forget he is there. A great achievement considering how often his name appears alongside Hollywood’s finest. He plays his subtle and understated role quite remarkably. In fact Life is a group performance of excellence. With such a small cast there is a solidarity against the terror they are each experiencing, and it feels like the breaking of a well-knit team.
There isn’t an original story or anything particularly surprising about Life, and it certainly is not going to rustle any award feathers, but for the thrashing tension it creates and its exploration through science fiction past, it is absolutely perfect.