Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, terror and pervasive profanity
In English, Japanese and Chinese with subtitles
Running time: 103 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
In recent years, Hollywood has started serving up some outer space adventures, a la “The Martian” (2015) and “The Space between Us” (2017), suggesting that the Red Planet is basically a benign environment free of any hostile creatures. But just when we thought it was safe to visit Mars again, along comes Life, a cautionary horror flick unleashing a terrifying alien force aboard an international space station.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), the claustrophobic thriller co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds as Dr. David Jordan and Roy Adams, respectively, the Pilgrim 7’s flight engineer and chief medical officer. The balance of the six-person crew is composed of Center for Disease Control quarantine specialist Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), systems engineer Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada), eco-biologist Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) and the spaceship’s captain, Katerina Golovkin (Olga Dihovichnaya).
As the film unfolds, we learn that their appointed mission is merely to deliver a single-cell organism arriving via space probe from the surface of Mars. It all sounds easy enough as the disarming plotline initially devotes itself to developing the characters’ back stories, like how David is a disenchanted, Iraq War vet.
Upon retrieving the capsule, they celebrate the discovery of the first incontrovertible proof of life beyond Earth. They even allow Sho’s daughter to give the ostensibly-innocuous substance a cute, cuddly name, oblivious of the danger lurking just over the horizon.
The plot thickens when “Calvin” begins reproducing via mitosis, and every cell of its luminescent ectoplasmic mass proves to be an irrepressible mix of brains and muscles. By day 25, the sentient creature develops proto-appendages and becomes strong enough to breach containment.
Initially, it nibbles on a finger of Hugh’s, who somehow discerns that “Calvin doesn’t hate us, but he’s got to kill us to survive.” Great. What ensues is a desperate race against time to return to Earth before the mushrooming monster devours them all, one-by-one.
Though reminiscent of such sci-fi classics as Alien (1979) and Species (1995), Life is a worthwhile addition to the extraterrestrial on the loose genre. Substantial credit in this regard goes to the ever-underappreciated Jake Gyllenhaal who turns in the latest in a long line of impressive performances which includes outings in Nocturnal Animals (2016), Southpaw (2015), Nightcrawler (2014) and Prisoners (2013), to name a few.
Strap yourself in for a cardiovascular screamfest that’ll keep you squirming in your seat. A riveting reminder that it still ain’t smart to mess with Mother Nature!