The past few years have been chock-full of space-laden sci-fi films such as “Gravity,” “Arrival” and “Passengers.” So it’s unsurprising that director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House,” “Child 44”) decided to try his hand at the sci-fi genre with his film, “Life.” Unlike most space films of the recent past, “Life” breaks into the thriller and horror genres while still still satisfying most sci-fi lovers.
“Life” tells the story of six astronauts living aboard the International Space Station and attempting to uncover the first extraterrestrial life on Mars. As the astronauts’ research progresses, the mysterious life-form evolves faster than they could have imagined. To the astronauts’ horror, the life-form begins to exhibit behavior that both challenges their intellect and surpasses their worst nightmares.
Jake Gyllenhaal, (“Donnie Darko,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Zodiac”) portrays the cautious crew doctor David Jordan. Gyllenhaal’s initial portrayal of Jordan falls flat because of the lackluster script and his overall dull performance. Gyllenhaal often delivers cliche lines like, “We weren’t trained for this.” The viewer is given very little background on his character, making it difficult to empathize with his situation.
Luckily, Gyllenhaal’s performance betters toward the end of the film as his character is pushed to the limits in the less-than-ideal conditions. Jordan’s angst is evident amongst the turmoil as he quickly loses his once cool demeanor and ultimately becomes the plan-maker aboard the spaceship. Although his character was well-developed and the film allowed for more fervent acting, Gyllenhaal delivered a performance that could have easily been replicated by lesser-known actors.
Among the star-studded leads is lesser-known actress Rebecca Ferguson (“The White Queen,” “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”). Ferguson portrays crew captain Dr. Miranda North in a way that is both believable and reminiscent of a motherly figure. The audience can feel her tension and distress, particularly toward the end, but Ferguson’s performance consistently surpasses her fellow actors throughout the entirety of the film. Ferguson shows true emotions during the traumatic scenes and, by doing so, causes the audience to empathize with her character.
Eager to break into a new genre of sci-fi, Espinosa concocts a Prometheus-like creature to serve as the rapidly developing life-form and antagonist in the film. The creature had the potential to be frightening and the capacity to fulfill Espinosa’s evident desire for “Life” to be different than other films of similar genres. Yet, it failled to scare most audiences and borderlined on laughably tacky.
Everyone’s favorite funny-guy, Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool,” “Green Lantern,” “The Proposal”), adds much-needed comic relief in his role as the space station’s engineer, Rory Adams. Reynolds delivers his lines simply, realistically, and in a way that is just enough to take the edge off of a tension-filled plot.
Hiroyuki Sanada (“The Last Ship”) played the pilot, Sho Murikami, and Ariyon Bakare (“Jupiter Ascending”) played the ship’s biologist, Hugh Derry, both of whom are convincing in their portrayals of the role, but failed to create standout characters.
Although the viewer is given insight into Murikami’s life as a new father and Derry’s struggles as a paraplegic, neither actor managed to truly grip the viewer because of their disconnected performances.
“Life” had the potential to put a fresh spin on the typical something-goes-wrong-in-space film. Unfortunately, even with the inclusion of disturbing life-forms, ominous music and familiar protagonists, “Life” failed to do any of its genres justice. The less- than-stellar performances and lack of true differentiators gave an overall lifeless feel to Espinosa’s “Life.”