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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Life 2017 * * * 1/2 Stars

LifeDirector: Daniel Espinosa
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds

Six members of the International Space Station, bring back with them what appears to be the first confirmation of living existence on Mars. They name it "Calvin" and attempt to call it that at every turn (I found this really annoying). "Calvin" after being awoken with electric shock therapy (not a good idea), turns on said members and is bent towards slaying them one by one. This leech-like creature can survive in any environment and its growth spurt is indeed rapid. As one biologist from the agog crew states, "it doesn't hate any human but it needs to kill to survive." How reassuring.

Anyway, that's the gist of 2017's Life, my latest review. Minus a happy ending (it's the antithesis to 2013's Gravity) and containing traumatizing ways in which space workers die, Life is a Twilight Zone nightmare and an effective one at that. It's the type of trepidation you tell your friends about after you leave the theater shaken like a Vesper Martini.

Related imageRyan Reynolds co-stars in Life. I've never been a huge fan of his so I was happily surprised when Ryan's character was the first one to perish in outer space (spoiler alert). I can always do without his smarmy personality. On the other end of the spectrum, there's Jake Gyllenhaal. Although I haven't seen every Gyllenhaal movie, the ones I have seen him in are all recommendable. Truth be told, he's one of the best actors in the business. Jake also co-stars in Life. Yeah, it's one of this year's best films.

So hey, Life is good. No I'm not talking about life itself, I'm talking about the darn movie. Critics have been calling it a retread of Alien. Allow me to retort. Life is an unsettling, sci-fi horror film that stands on its own. It doesn't need to be compared to Ridley Scott's 1979 megahit. Now granted, Ridley is gearing up for a resurgence in the Alien franchise titled, Alien: Covenant. Life, with its nasty life form looking a starfish from hell and then growing into a badass serpent, will aptly bide time with science fiction enthusiasts. Originally slated to be released in May, it makes sense that Life got moved back to this month. I mean why should there be a need to compete with "Covenant" and a legend like Scott.

Tentacle alien species and slight movie plagiarism aside, Life is directed by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa. Remember his 2012 release Safe House? I do and this is a heck of a lot better. Espinosa does a bang-up job with Life, creating an outer atmosphere in which fervent fear and mission failure are inevitable. The script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, requires the crew members in Life to eventually lose all radio communication with planet Earth. I know it's a sci-fi thriller cliche but that notion is still very unsettling.

Getting back to director Espinosa. He opens the film via a single continuous shot for the ages, letting his camera follow troupers with the impulse of zero gravity lingering. He then infuses lots of actor close-ups during Life's brisk. 103-minute running time. Not going too overboard with the required, space probe gimmickry, Mr. Espinosa moves the proceedings along, giving Life ratcheting tension right from the 30-minute mark. With a modest budget of $58 million, Life doesn't lack originality (as mentioned earlier). Instead, it reinvents it adding panache to the sci-fi genre cesspool. Bottom line: Life is a real winner. Again, I'm talking about the dang movie. Natch. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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