Tuesday, April 4, 2017

LIFE (2017)

Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. March 28, 2017 4:45PM

A space crew goes out in search of life on a seemingly lifeless planet. They retrieve samples and during an experiment with the organism something goes terribly wrong, with it becoming a powerful, deadly force that threatens the entire crew. If this plot sounds somewhat familiar, it should. It is a slight variation of "Alien", Ridley Scott's groundbreaking 1979 sci-fi horror film that brought respectability and big box-office to the genre.

With "Life", director Daniel Espinosa delivers a solid, effective thriller and takes full advantage of the incredible advances in visual effects. The only obstacle is that this filmmaker is not entirely successful in putting enough distance between his contemporary space drama and Ridley Scott's masterpiece.

The six-man crew on an international space station includes Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), the Russian commander, Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), an American medic, Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), a British quarantine officer and Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada), the systems engineer from Japan. And no crew is complete without a smart-ass jokester with Ryan Reynolds filling that role as Roy, the pilot of the station.

The biologist on the team, Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) has success in reviving a dormant organism from Mars by adjusting atmospheric conditions in a lab. Given the name "Calvin" by school children back on Earth, it is a complex multi-celled life-form that responds to stimuli and needs a certain amount of oxygen to thrive. An accident in the lab which shifted the atmosphere causes Calvin to return to being non-responsive. Desperate to revive it, Derry attempts a mild electric shock to re-stimulate the organism.

This proves to be effective yet Calvin becomes aggressive, wrapping itself around Derry's hand and squeezing tightly with no immediate plan of letting go. Eventually releasing the mangled hand, Calvin manages to escape it's secure enclosure, making the crew realize they are dealing with an intuitive and resourceful being. After devouring a lab rat, Calvin rapidly increases in size, further complicating this situation.

If you are at all familiar with this genre, then you know that once this highly evolved alien begins raging against the crew in a desperate fight for survival, it will become stronger, smarter and more lethal, setting the stage for an uneven fight between man against creature.

Mr. Espinosa first came to Hollywood's attention with his Swedish action-thriller hit, "Easy Money" (which has spawned two sequels and is being primed for an American remake) and made his first U.S. based feature, "Safe House" with Mr. Reynolds and Denzel Washington in 2012. There is an European sensibility to the pacing and performances but with a serviceable script by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, the team that brought us the wickedly profane and brutally violent super-hero flick, "Deadpool", the terrifying action and gore has been ramped-up American-style and emphasized for maximum effect. "Life" looks sensational with impressive camera-work from Seamus McGarvey and a top-notch special effects team together deliver some amazing, believable visuals.

With all this lavish attention paid to the technical side of the film, character development becomes more of an afterthought. These strong, appealing actors do the best the can with very little but ultimately most of them end up being developed just enough before simply falling in to the standard horror-movie victim pile.

Though the film features some intriguing science, astonishing realistic imagery, intense scary thrills and a clever ending, "Life" just can't shake the feeling of familiarity and predictability. That's not necessarily a bad thing yet it also doesn't offer much incentive to encourage someone to see the film either.