Aboard the International Space Station, floating in circles around the Earth, a small team of scientists led by David Jordon (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers a single cell organism on the surface of mars. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is placed in charge of studying the organism, analysing and interacting with it as it begins to evolve and slowly adapt to its newfound surroundings. But the organism proves to be far more intelligent than any of them had anticipated, growing exponentially and consequently escaping from captivity. It’s a game of survival as the creature continues to grow, getting stronger and increasingly violent. The crew, consisting of Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Roy Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Kat (Olga Dihovichnaya), must bond together in a fight for survival against the malevolent alien.
Building tension can be difficult. It’s easy to confine a horror movie to a single location, much like this one, but without the much-needed stakes and character investment, all hard work is put to waste. Life, thankfully, works. You care about the characters, hoping for their survival yet unsure if any of them are going to pull through. The story is fast in pace, getting right into the scientific investigation while also unraveling who exactly these characters are. Their backstories and character details are thorough, delivered in a way that doesn’t scream with obvious characterization. It’s subtle, the performances effectively nuanced. Everyone nails their role, but it’s Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson who steal the show. “I miss my fucking dog,” Ryan Reynolds yells after an early encounter with the alien. That one line alone delivers information to the audience in a way that’s natural, and it’s far from the only example.
The film becomes darker, scarier and more unpredictable than you can possibly imagine. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the creative geniuses behind Deadpool and Zombieland, rely on formulaic horror movie expectations in order to twist them and turn them into a horrific, gore-filled nail bitter that’ll dig its way under your skin. Creativity is hard to come by in the genre of horror, but Life is full of it. These are smart characters making logical and well thought out decisions. Despite all efforts, nowhere feels safe. Danger lurks everywhere. While the alien itself looks somewhat generic, its relentless and violent nature aids in the overall creepiness, leading to a finale that’s goddamn terrifying. The final moments are somewhat predictable, but only by about thirty or so seconds, and this mild predictability doesn’t take away from the shock value of the film’s final punch.
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