Review: ‘Life’ movie takes ‘Alien’ formula and runs with it

Director Daniel Espinosa understands this, embracing the Alien formula while tweaking it with post-Gravity technology. Life doesn’t head in every direction we expect, elevating it among space creature features.

Not even star billing means anything for survival. Sorry, Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and/or Rebecca Ferguson. Tough luck, other three actors adding cultural diversity and not much else.

Yet Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick earn their right to rip off better movies, not only imagery but tone with regard to Life‘s stunning finale. What we’ve seen before they make worth sitting through again.

The imitative flattery begins with a tour of the International Space Station where six astronauts float about their daily routines. Espinosa’s one-take trickery and weightless illusions were perfected by Gravity‘s Alfonso Cuarón and effectively employed here.

Life isn’t always so impressive. Sometimes the actors too obviously fake zero gravity by bobbing and weaving in the camera frame. At times we wonder how a crew member floats while others stand steady. Anything is immune to physics except hemorrhaged blood globs always hanging in the air like Christmas ornaments.

The crew’s mission is collecting specimens from Mars, begging the question: Aren’t there any less angry planets to explore? One collection nabs a speckled string bean that moves, the first evidence of life on Mars. The crew’s accomplishment is celebrated on Earth, and a lucky middle school gets to name the critter Calvin.

While horror began internally in Alien, Life works outside in, with Calvin proving to be as relentlessly probing parasite growing larger with each meal. First it’s just finger food, an entry point to the crew buffet. Calvin’s dining habit involves oral invasion then roto-rootering around, always an icky pleasure to observe.

Of course radio communications with Earth are down, the outer space equivalent of no cell service in the woods. It’s just the crew against Calvin in a battle of one-way attrition. There’s an interlude when the Soyuz space station gets involved but it’s just an excuse to crib Cuarón’s space debris technology.

Even so, Espinosa overcomes any shortcomings in originality and logic with one of the most satisfying finales in recent memory. First impressions are important but a clever last impression makes Life worthwhile.

Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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Director: Daniel Espinosa

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare, Hiroyuki Sanada

Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Rating: R; profanity, sci-fi violence

Running time: 103 min.

Grade: B-

Review: ‘Life’ movie takes ‘Alien’ formula and runs with it 03/23/17

[Last modified: Thursday, March 23, 2017 5:33pm]

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